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Trafficking panel warns of problems at Super Bowl, offers strategies

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WASHINGTON – At a meeting Thursday to launch a national campaign against human trafficking, if you said the word “Arizona,” two words were likely to come up in response: Super Bowl.

The party atmosphere of the event, combined with the high levels of disposable income it attracts, can lead to a spike in trafficking, said Tracy Thompson, an assistant attorney general in New Jersey, where last year’s Super Bowl was held.

“The person that makes $5.85, $7, $10 an hour, they’re not coming to the Super Bowl. Super Bowl tickets are thousands of dollars,” said Thompson, in Washington for Thursday’s launch. “So you already have people in this party atmosphere with a large disposable income whose inhibitions may be a little lower than normal.”

Despite those challenges, however, there are ways to deal with the problem, said Thompson, who is also chair of New Jersey’s Human Trafficking Task Force.

Trafficking, like legitimate businesses, goes where the money is, following basic supply and demand, and Thompson said her task force managed to keep traffickers and their customers away with a combination of awareness and enforcement.

From hotel managers and staff to cab drivers, workers in the regions tourism industry were told what to look out for and to call authorities if they saw anything that didn’t seem right. Otherwise, she said, traffickers would be “hiding in plain sight” in the large crowds that likely would not notice the victims of trafficking who are not there of their own will.

Those characteristics, of education and advocacy, were the theme of the Human Rights First campaign unveiled Thursday by advocates, elected officials and law enforcement authorities. That plan aims to tackle the problem of human trafficking on a national scale, rather than one focused on a single event like the Super Bowl.

It came the same week that a dozen bills aimed at trafficking flew through the House with little debate on Monday and Tuesday. The bills passed on voice votes and drew support from both sides of the aisle: Co-sponsors included Arizona Republican Reps. Trent Franks of Glendale and Martha McSally of Tucson and Democratic Reps. Kyrsten Sinema of Phoenix and Raul Grijalva of Tucson, for example.

In Arizona, as in New Jersey before them, officials have been educating residents about trafficking. Digital billboard space was recently donated in Arizona, showing the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s hotline number on at least 15 billboards at any given time.

Cindy McCain, co-chair of the Arizona Human Trafficking Council and a consulting member of the Human Rights First campaign, has worked with Thompson’s office and consulted with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on the issue. McCain and Christie talked before last year’s Super Bowl and have been in contact again in recent months as Glendale prepared to host the game, Thompson said.

“I’m confident that they have, with Cindy McCain at the helm,” higher awareness of human trafficking as the Super Bowl nears, Thompson said. “I’m confident they’ll do a phenomenal job.”