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US churches fight human trafficking at Super Bowl as police rescue four victims

Posted on: February 4, 2019 3:00 PM
Soap bars with anti-trafficking helpline numbers were distributed to hotels around Atlanta in the run up to Super Bowl sporting event.
Photo Credit: SOAP UP / Facebook

Police in Atlanta, Georgia, have arrested 40 people as they investigate human trafficking around the weekend’s Super Bowl sports event in the US. Four victims have rescued including two minors. The annual event – like many large scale gatherings around the world – is known to attract traffickers who exploit their victims through forced prostitution. Churches from the US-based Episcopal Church have taken part in a campaign to help reach out to potential victims.

As part of the campaign, members of congregations in the Diocese of Atlanta have turned thousands of soap bars into weapons against exploitation and abuse, placing anti-trafficking hotline numbers around them. The soap bars were used by hotels in and around Atlanta instead of their usual soap bars. They have also produced informational materials and posters with the pictures of missing children.

Advocates for victims of child sex trafficking warn that the problem spikes around big sporting events, like the Super Bowl. The American business magazine Forbes, in 2012, quoted the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children as saying that 10,000 people were taken to Miami to work as prostitutes for the 2010 Super Bowl. In 2011, the Texas Attorney General, Greg Abbott, said that the Super Bowl is “commonly known as the single largest human trafficking incident in the United States.”

The campaign, dubbed SOAP UP Atlanta, was organised by members of the Diocese of Atlanta’s Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Commission and builds on the work of a range of organisations in Atlanta with the shared goal of ending human trafficking.

“It’s going to take people, parishes, churches, other organisations banding together to get this done, and if we do, massive amounts of people can stop it,” Catherine Renaud, a commission member who helped organize the SOAP UP events, told the Episcopal News Service.

She explained that hotel employees had reported recognising potential victims from the posters and reported them to authorities.

Renaud said that The diocese’s Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Commission has been around for several years but has never attempted a campaign like this before. The 76-year-old semi-retired computer software specialist is a member of St Patrick’s Episcopal Church in Dunwoody, an Atlanta suburb. She got involved in the fight against child trafficking after learning about the problem years ago at a conference.

“I heard the statistics. That’s all it took for me,” she said. Among the statistics cited by the diocese’s commission are that, in Georgia each month, an estimated 7,000 or more men who pay for sex end up exploiting an adolescent female.

“I could not sit by and do nothing,” Renaud said. “And I think the more other people hear about it, they won’t be able to either. Once you hear it, you can’t forget it.”

The Episcopal Church, too, has taken up the issue. A 2009 General Convention resolution “calls for the protection of all victims of human trafficking,” and Episcopalians have been involved in past campaigns to fight sex trafficking in Super Bowl cities.

  • This article draws heavily on a more in-depth report by David Paulsen for the Episcopal News Service. Click here to read his full report.