With a highly anticipated fight between boxing’s biggest star Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and MMA firebrand Conor McGregor just around the corner on August 26, almost all of the stories surrounding the historic event have focused on the animosity between the two fighters, the revenue it’ll bring to Las Vegas (and the fighters themselves), and predictions of its result.
But what has gone underreported is the human cost that will inevitably come to this event in the form of prostitutes and other victims of human trafficking—especially since it’s in Las Vegas, home of the sex industry and one of the highest risk cities in the country for human trafficking.
Major sporting events like this and the Super Bowl every year draw unprecedented amounts of human trafficking. Just this year, during Super Bowl weekend, police arrested 750 suspects in sex trafficking stings across the U.S. In 2015, in the two weeks leading up to Super Bowl XLIX, law enforcement agencies in 17 states arrested nearly 600 people and rescued 68 victims of human trafficking during a sting. In 2012, the week before the Super Bowl over 1,000 postings on Backpage.com, an online postings site that recently came under fire in a new Senate report, listed services from women and escort services, and a quarter referenced the Super Bowl, or “Super Bowl Specials.” The Mayweather-McGregor fight is expected to bring much of the same.
Preventing Sex Trafficking and Protecting Its Victims
Operation Underground Railroad (OUR) Founder and CEO Tim Ballard believes more should be done to reduce the human cost at major sporting events in the U.S. To achieve this goal, OUR has been working with and training local law enforcement both domestically in the United States and in countries around the world—including Colombia, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, to catch traffickers and free their victims while also making citizens aware of what is happening around them. Led by former Department of Homeland Security Special Agent Tim Ballard, OUR has rescued over 650 children and helped arrest over 275 traffickers worldwide.
“It’s a sad reality that some of the greatest sporting events in this country are linked to Human Trafficking,” Ballard said. “People don’t realize that pimps and traffickers are making big money during these events.”
People come to Vegas for a good time, but unfortunately its 24-hour party culture encourages and heavily sells sex. Human trafficking has reached its boiling point, and efforts must be made to save current and future victims of this industry.
You may hear people characterize prostitution as the oldest profession in the world, making light of a business that exploits and demeans defenseless women and children. Las Vegas is ground zero for human trafficking, and a high-profile event creates ample opportunities for pimps and johns to carry out their disgusting operations.
How Do We Stop Sex Trafficking Before It Happens?
Anyone at any given moment can stop someone from being lured into prostitution. While victims’ identities are usually kept secret, buying and selling operations are orchestrated in front of our very eyes. Recently, on a flight from Seattle, WA to San Jose, CA, a woman on the plane spotted a man in front of her sending lewd messages that hinted that the security of some children could be at risk. After the witness contacted authorities, the man was detained when the plane landed and subsequently charged with two counts of solicitation of a sex crime. The recipient of the disturbing text messages, a woman, was later arrested in Tacoma, WA and booked on similar misconduct.
This situation indicates a greater call to action to prevent similar circumstances from arising. For those traveling in large groups to Vegas for the fight, please be aware of not only your surroundings, but also of the surroundings of your group and other bystanders. The age-old saying of “If you see something, say something” rings true in these scenarios.
Most trafficking victims are ordered to keep silent while out in public, and let their master do all the communicating. Along with wearing less than flattering outfits, some sex slaves show signs of physical abuse on their bodies. If you believe you have identified someone in a trafficking situation, notify local law enforcement immediately. You can also contact the 24-hour National Human Trafficking Hotline line at 1-888-373-7888.
The Mayweather-McGregor fight will surely be one of the most talked about sporting events of this year, and the revenue generated from that weekend will undoubtedly shatter records. However, saving the life of a sex slave supersedes any expectation anyone should have of his or her time in Las Vegas.
Tim Ballard and his team at OUR are committed to putting an end to these heinous acts. “We need to raise awareness around these events that children are being sold right under their noses. Together we can end this.”