ATLANTA — Amid all the partying and excitement, there is a dark side to the Super Bowl. Any time a major event is in town, the demand for sex for sale quadruples, according to research done by the group Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution.
Two of the most vulnerable spots – hotels and the airport – are training to fight back against sex trafficking.
Among the smiling faces of Super Bowl volunteers and adrenaline-fueled fans, airport workers are laser focused on picking up on things that just aren’t quite right.
“Traffickers are very, very smart. What they’ve learned how to do is blend in, so our idea of training is to look for the things that look abnormal within a normal situation,” Jai Ferrell, Director of Marketing and Creative Services at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
Since we are home to the world’s busiest airport, Atlanta is a prime spot for child sex trafficking. We’ve garnered an ugly reputation for it. So, every one of the 63,000 employees gets trained in how to spot it.
“Oftentimes it’s not a look. It’s truly an energy you can tell,” Ferrell said. “You are looking for anyone who looks as if there might be an interesting relationship, someone who is abrasive, who may look like they are trying to be a bit sneaky.”
The airport has doubled up on the sign rotation on the baggage claim carousels. You’ll also see them in the bathroom, hidden near the restaurants, and hear it over the loudspeaker on the plane train, too.
Once you leave the airport, saving a victim could come down to a bar of soap.
“I just thought we could put this phone number on a bar of soap, because they all wash up after every man and many times it’s the only time they are allowed alone,” Theresa Flores said, founder of The S.O.A.P. Project.
Flores knows this because it’s the only time she was allowed to be alone. She was thrown into the sex trade at 15 when a guy she had a crush on offered to drive her home.
“He ended up drugging me and raping me, and then they took photos and then blackmailed me with the photos,” Flores said.
Two years later, she escaped. Since then, she’s made it her life’s mission to help save others through The S.O.A.P. Project, which besides its literal interpretation, also stands for “Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution.”
She gathers volunteers to put stickers on make-up wipes and bars of soap with the National Trafficking Hotline Number and hands them out to hotels all over Atlanta. She says anytime they do this, calls to the hotline double.
Sometimes she even gets proof that it works.
“I got a text a year ago and it said you are the reason that I’m free. I found a bar of your soap and it gave me the courage to call. She said she found it in Chicago, and we’ve never gone to Chicago with soap,” Flores said.
“I wish somebody would have said something for me,” Flores said.
The group handed out 60,000 bars of soap over two days to nearly 300 hotels ahead of Super Bowl LIII.
The Human Trafficking Hotline Number is 1-888-3737-888 or, alternatively, 1-800-THE-LOST.
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