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33 arrested in Super Bowl sting: How Atlanta is dealing with sex trafficking

Super Bowl Sunday is probably one of the only American-traditions that hasn’t lost any of its steam. Besides being the most viewed television event of the year, the mere nature of the ‘big game’ has, since it’s the inception, been treated like a national holiday.

The commercial slots are worth millions, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime gig and honor for the halftime performer. Plus,  it rakes in a great amount of revenue to the hosting city.

Which is why it was horrific to learn that 33 people have been arrested in relation to a sex trafficking ring in Atlanta ahead of the Super Bowl yesterday, Jan. 31.

According to authorities, four victims have already been rescued but it also makes you wonder how many others there are.  Just last week in Douglasville — a town not too far from Atlanta — 16 were arrested as part of an undercover operation. The timing of their sex ring operation was in direct relation to that of the Super Bowl.

When you take into account the type of scene the Super Bowl naturally attracts and Atlanta being the third largest city for sex trafficking, it creates a hotbed for this type of criminal activity that cannot be ignored. Atlanta’s Mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, spoke to CNN on the complexities of human trafficking, especially in Atlanta.

“The Super Bowl is an opportunity for us to talk about it, but it’s something we have to be vigilant about 12 months out of the year,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told CNN.

“It’s about making sure that the thousands of men and women who work in our hotels understand what the signs are. It’s about making sure our police officers understand what the signs are. It’s about making sure the public is informed,” she said.

Mayor Bottoms has been a long-time supporter of anti-human-trafficking efforts. She rolled out a media campaign to combat and raise awareness about the spread of human trafficking in ATL.

Similarly, Department of Homeland Security Agent Nick Annan tells The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that they aren’t allowed to disclose the details of the case but “plans to continue what we’re doing.”

And they’ve been doing.

Atlanta police Chief Erika Shields says planning for Super Bowl security began over two years ago and that there are dozens of local, state and federal agencies assisting with security.

Those efforts include listing warning signs of trafficking and a hotline number at convenience stores and gas stations, posters in the airport and inflight videos from Delta Air Lines’ carrying the message.

Throughout January there have even been churches in Atlanta holding public information sessions on how to spot trafficking in communities and volunteers went into hotels to share the signs with employees.

Being that January was Human Trafficking Awareness Month one could hope that its unintentional intersection with the Super Bowl’s puts a spotlight on this issue as well potentially rescue more victims. The International Labor Organization estimates that 40.3 million people are trapped in human trafficking globally — 71 percent of whom are women and girls and 25 percent are children.

Although there’s no evidence that supports the theory that sex trafficking heightens during Super Bowl, The National Human Trafficking Hotline tells CNN they’ve seen “slight upticks” in calls and reports during Super Bowl weekend.

As the New England Patriots take on the Los Angeles Rams Sunday, we can only hope for safety on and off the field.