People involved in fighting human trafficking say Southern California is one of the world’s hotspots for this type of crime, and with the Super Bowl coming up, officials and activists are working to raise awareness.
A national nonprofit organization called In Our Backyard has been battling sex-trafficking surrounding the Super Bowl for the past 13 years. Partners in Southern California include Forgotten Children Incorporated and the South Los Angeles Anti-Trafficking Committee.
“The average age is around 12 years old for children when they’re first trafficked in America. For me to come out and say, ‘Yes, this happened to me,’ I hope that someone else hears that story and knows that there’s hope for them too,” said Cheryl Csiky, a survivor of human trafficking and executive director of In Our Backyard.
“I quickly learned through my interactions with these victims that victims of human trafficking are not out there by choice. They’re out there by force, fraud or coercion. Those that I arrested for trafficking, they only saw them as objects of a commodity and ways to make money. Those that I arrested that bought victims of human trafficking, they too only saw them as objects for their own pleasure,” said Stephany Powell, a former police officer who works with the National Center on Sexual Exploitation.
While human trafficking happens year-round in the U.S., it intensifies with large events, and experts explain the “party atmosphere” associated with the Super Bowl, concerts and conventions can lead to an increase in the purchase of adults and children for sex.
Southern California may have recently seen a human-trafficking case end in tragedy.
Tioni Theus, the 16-year-old who was found shot to death near a South Los Angeles freeway in early January, may have been a victim of human trafficking, L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón said.
The District Attorney’s Office urges people to call 1-888-539-2373 or 1-888-373-7888 if they suspect human trafficking activity.