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Group brings awareness to human trafficking before Super Bowl

Signs like a lack of identification, avoiding eye social interaction, or the inability to clarify where they are staying are possible indicators of human trafficking

PHOENIX — Along with the parties, red-carpet events, and festivals that come to a host city during the Super Bowl, groups are also using the event to end the scourge of human trafficking.

The Super Bowl isn't the biggest human trafficking event in the world despite popular belief, evidence shows. However, organizations fighting against end human trafficking are taking advantage of the numerous industries and communities that are coming together to raise awareness of the crime.

For the past nine years, the It’s A Penalty organization has traveled to Super Bowl host cities to help fight trafficking.

RELATED: No, there’s no evidence the Super Bowl is the biggest sex trafficking event in the world

Seeing the signs

The group kicked off its 2023 campaign at the Arizona Biltmore Wednesday with speeches by advocates and survivors of human trafficking.  

A cornerstone of the group's campaign is educating people on the signs of human trafficking; the first defense in combating trafficking. 

Signs like a lack of identification, avoiding eye contact or social interaction, or the inability to clarify where they are staying are all possible indicators of a human trafficking situation.

“Human trafficking happens all year round. What It’s A Penalty does is we campaign around major global sporting events, all year round,” Sarah de Carvolho, the founder of It’s A Penalty, said. “Because what it provides is a platform to bring everyone together the hospitality industry, the sports industry, and the local communities within the host cities. But also, to communicate about the issue itself, because a lot of people don't even know that it exists, even though it's the fastest-growing illegal business.”

Carvolho said if people see something, they say something- namely by calling their local police or 911- traffickers will run out of places to hide from law enforcement.

Raising awareness

Another cornerstone of the group is involving athletes and celebrities to help spread the message.

“I'm so proud to partner with It's A Penalty for these initiatives that the entire world needs to understand what's happening, and how we can all be in the know,” Collette V. Smith said. “And I love what one of my counterparts said: ‘if you see something, say something, but also if you see something, do something.’”

Smith was the first Black woman to coach in the NFL as a defensive backs assistant coach with the New York Jets while Head Coach Todd Bowles led the team. She uses that platform to mentor other athletes and fight human trafficking.

“It's incredibly important. This is vital for all of us to be out here. So, using my platform as being the first African American woman to coach in the history of the National Football League, the first woman to coach in New York Jets franchise history, those are superhero capes,” Smith said. “There's a little power that we're going to use to showcase love, support, connection, sisterhood, and community.”

The celebrity ambassadors, like Smith, use their platform to spread awareness of the signs of human trafficking.

Not on my watch

In partnership with It’s A Penalty, major hotel chains across the country have instituted training for their staff to identify and report trafficking situations.

“Our industry has had a long-standing commitment to combating human trafficking,” Eliza McCoy, with the American Hotel and Lodging Association Foundation said. 

“It's been a battle that we recognize we have responsibility and leadership opportunities in this space. Ever since 2019, we've been unified in those efforts with No Room for Trafficking. That includes equipping every single hotel employee within the industry with training, and signage, so that we're really embedding, in all of our industry, the identification and reporting of suspected human trafficking. Now we've moved into the space of supporting survivors as well, through our first-ever industry survivor fund.”

Airlines are also training their employees to spot potential trafficking situations. Southwest Airlines, for one, has partnered with It’s A Penalty to bring the issue front-and-center for its employees and passengers.

“It is truly an honor to be here representing Southwest Airlines. A couple of years ago, we made it one of our company’s focus pillars to fight human trafficking by educating our employees,” Kelly Knox, with Southwest Airlines said. 

“They’re aware of the signs as people travel through our airports and our airplanes and a dedicated commitment to community partners who are doing the great work to bring awareness to this heinous crime. So, it's really empowering and inspiring to see all of these people come together to fight this issue and really save lives.”

The efforts are worth it, Carvolho says, every time a life is saved.

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