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Task force aims to make Phoenix leader in stopping sex trafficking

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PHOENIX – A city task force is developing a plan that members say can make Phoenix the nation’s leader at preventing child sex trafficking.

The Human Trafficking Task Force includes city leaders, experts, community advocates and representatives of law enforcement.

“We have a home-grown, pretty significant problem here in Phoenix,” said task force member Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, an associate professor in Arizona State University’s Director Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research. “That is clear from the research, that we have sex trafficking in our community all the time.”

While many have pointed to next year’s Super Bowl in Glendale as a reason for Arizona to do more to combat sex trafficking, a presentation by Roe-Sepowitz at the group’s March 20 meeting suggested that large events don’t necessarily cause the problem to spike.

“The Super Bowl will probably give us somewhat of an issue but not as big of a bump as expected from what people had said anecdotally over the years,” she said.

The task force, appointed by Mayor Greg Stanton, is developing a plan for combating sex trafficking that members say other cities that host big events will be able to consult. Strong connections between organizations tasked with prevention, awareness, detection and intervention will inform the plan, Roe-Sepowitz said.

“We already have many advantages to becoming that model city,” she said.

A representative of the SAFE (Safeguarding Adolescents From Exploitation) Action Project, directed by the O’Connor House, presented on workshops the group conducts to help hotel, motel and resort employees recognize signs of sex trafficking.

Kimberly Klein, project manager for the SAFE Action Project, said hotels are common meet-up spots when a person is paying someone for sex, often after consulting an Internet ad site.

“Online ads have made the problem widespread,” Klein said.

Vice Mayor Jim Waring, the group’s chairman, said he wants Arizona to be the leader at raising public awareness about sex trafficking.

“In the future we want everyone to look at what Arizona did on this issue, not just around the game,” Waring said.