Super Bowl known as 'largest human trafficking event'

Grassroots warriors ready to help victims in sex trade

HOUSTON – This weekend’s Super Bowl is likely to transform the entire city of Houston into one huge party, yet it’s also considered the largest human trafficking event of the year by victim advocates.

“Traffickers know. Pimps know. They bring women in,” said Sam Hernandez, with Elijah Rising, a non-profit devoted to ending sex trafficking and sexual exploitation through prayer, intervention and awareness.

The Super Bowl “increases the amount of prostitution and human trafficking that is going to happen, more than any event we see,” Hernandez said.

The last time the Super Bowl was held in Houston was in 2004. Hernandez said it was so lucrative, even after it was over.

“Pimps that came in for the event stayed,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez said Elijah Rising tracks down women and even children trapped in the sex trade the same way people find prostitutes, by going on-line.

To help recruit volunteers and educate the public, Hernandez said she’s taken 7,000 people on van tours, pointing out brothels in Houston neighborhoods.

Another non-profit that is based in Washington, D.C., Airline Ambassadors International, trains those in the airline and tourism industries how to spot sex trafficking victims.

“We really want them to be aware of some of the warning signs,” said Rosalyn Parker, with Airline Ambassadors.

Parker said the organization’s 6,000 members look for people who are overly anxious, inappropriately dressed for the destination and companions who are extremely protective. She said instead of intervening, pilots can be advised to call police, so when the plane lands, law enforcement is there to interview the people involved.

In San Antonio, the Heidi Search Center often finds out that the person who is reported missing has fallen into the grasp of sex traffickers.

Dottie Laster, the Heidi Search Center’s executive director, said when she looks at the victims’ social media activity, “I find someone has been grooming, luring, recruiting them and now they’re missing.”  

About the Author:

Jessie Degollado has been with KSAT since 1984. She is a general assignments reporter who covers a wide variety of stories. Raised in Laredo and as an anchor/reporter at KRGV in the Rio Grande Valley, Jessie is especially familiar with border and immigration issues. In 2007, Jessie also was inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame.