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Experts warn about risk of sex trafficking during NBA All-Star weekend

sex trafficking
Posted at 7:45 AM, Feb 16, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-16 07:45:36-05

INDIANAPOLIS — As tens of thousands of people make their way to Indianapolis for NBA All-Star weekend, advocates want to bring your attention to a serious issue: sex trafficking.

Large scale events with out-of-town visitors create an increased risk for this multi-billion dollar industry.

It’s because there’s a heightened demand.

Pimps and traffickers know and rely on this to raise their profits, leaving women and girls at risk.

“The people that are being trafficked, the people that are being picked up during these stings aren’t always from the region," Alisa Bernard with World Without Exploitation said.

And that’s her worry with the more than 100,000 people visiting Indy this weekend.

“We do see that a lot of people who are coming in to purchase sex are from outside the region, where people who are being bought for sex are also coming in from outside the region," Bernard said.

Bernard knows first hand the dangers of the sex trade industry because she is a survivor.

She was prostituted in her early 20s in the Seattle, Washington region.

Today, she works with World Without Exploitation, a coalition of over 200 organizations across the country that work to fight trafficking and provide services to victims.

“There’s a couple of ways we can see this is happening and occurring more frequently. Especially around events like this. Service providers are getting increases in the number of people they are seeing walk in their doors. Law enforcement are gonna be doing stings and operations around this," Bernard said.

Targets are often our most vulnerable women and girls.

“People who are marginalized by their sex, gender, their disability, immigration status. Women and girls of color are disproportionately over represented. LGBTQ individuals, particularly transgender individuals," Yasmin Vafa with the nonprofit Rights4Girls said.

Often times trafficking is portrayed as someone being kidnapped or abducted.

But it can be more subtle.

“There’s often a grooming process when someone is very young. Most of the adults in the sex trade were first exploited as children and first entered the sex industry as young teens," Vafa said.

Victims are often the ones being arrested for sex trade.

Vafa says we need to turn our attention towards buyers and traffickers.

“Who are we holding accountable for their role in the sex trade? The individuals who are often in the situation as a means of survival or those who are exercising their choice and agency and have the privilege to be making decisions about what they want to be doing and what they can be doing," Vafa said.

Here are some ways you can identify if someone might be a victim of trafficking:

• lives with their employer.
• gives answers that appear to be scripted and rehearsed.
• shows signs of physical abuse.
• is submissive or fearful.
• is under 18 and working in the commercial sex industry.

If you see someone call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.