A man walks past a garbage truck that will be utilized in the cleanup during the Fiesta Flambeau Parade in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.
Traffickers transport their victims to cities hosting major events and sell them for prostitution and labor. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

On Sunday, more than 110 million sports fans around the world will tune in when the New England Patriots take on the Atlanta Falcons during Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium in Houston. Famous for its highly publicized football game, halftime show, and the countless parties that accompany the two, the Super Bowl is also considered the largest human trafficking event of the year.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, human trafficking is one of the fastest growing crimes worldwide and draws profits around $32 billion a year in the global market. Men, women, and children are being bought, sold, smuggled, and forced into prostitution, domestic servitude, and factory work with no pay and inhumane working conditions. Vulnerability factors such as poverty, ignorance, or runaway youth may increase traffickers’ access to potential victims; however, victims come from all walks of life and income brackets and the explosion of technology has only reduced traffickers’ barriers to accessing their targets.

I first heard the term “human trafficking” at a conference in 2005 and was shocked that this kind of atrocity still happens today. I listened intently as the speaker explained that this form of slavery isn’t confined to third-world countries or remote locations, but happens right here in my home state of Texas, where a startling 25% of human trafficking victims are discovered. Human traffickers pass through San Antonio on their way to other cities across Texas and the country, making our city a major hub for sex trafficking. In the past two years, more than 263 Bexar County children have been flagged as potential victims of sex trafficking and 46 have been confirmed.

Leading up to the Super Bowl, traffickers will be traveling on our highways and through our city to take their victims to Houston where they will sell them for prostitution or “event entertainment” throughout the weekend. As a community, we must be vigilant in light of this unsettling reality. Residents of San Antonio can help prevent human trafficking by recognizing some of the following signs as red flags:

If a person:

  • Is under 18 and providing commercial sex acts
  • Is in the commercial sex industry and has a pimp/manager
  • Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid
  • Appears malnourished
  • Has few or no personal possessions
  • Is not allowed or able to speak for him/herself
  • Exhibits a lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or does not know what city he/she is in
  • Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture

More indicators and information on human trafficking can be found here.

If you observe any of the above signs or others that raise questions about a person’s safety, please call the San Antonio Police Department. Speak up and let traffickers know that San Antonio does not tolerate the exploitation and abuse of children and adults for profit.

Much like rape and sexual assault, victims of sex and labor trafficking are often met with reservations or blamed for being victimized. Victims of human trafficking are often silent victims who fear and distrust law enforcement agents and similar professionals as traffickers tell them that seeking help from law enforcement will end with them being arrested and treated as criminals. The abuse and torture in human trafficking is as much physical as it is mental, so rescued victims are usually reluctant to talk, do not identify as victims, and have an altered sense of self, reality, trust, and faith.

The Rape Crisis Center is committed to supporting those impacted by sexual violence and trafficking through crisis intervention, advocacy, and long-term care. In October 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Victims of Crime awarded the Rape Crisis Center, in partnership with SAPD, a federal grant to combat human trafficking and strengthen our efforts against sex and labor trafficking in the San Antonio area. Every day, we provide victim-centered, trauma-informed, and culturally safe services to those who have been affected by this crime. We are committed to raising the public’s awareness and working to prevent this from happening to anyone else.

To learn more about The Rape Crisis Center and San Antonio’s efforts against human trafficking, please visit our website.

If you have been a victim of trafficking or sexual violence and need information or help, call our 24-hour confidential hotline.

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Miriam M. Elizondo

Miriam M. Elizondo is the executive director of the Rape Crisis Center in San Antonio. She received her master’s degree in counseling psychology from Our Lady of the Lake University in 2005 and has been...