Super Bowl: Authorities, nonprofit group work to combat spike in sex trafficking as game approaches

INGLEWOOD, Calif. (KABC) -- For the host city of each Super Bowl, there's a guaranteed influx of visitors and money. And while a boost for the Inglewood economy is welcome, there's a dark side to hosting the big game.

Every year, no matter where the Super Bowl is hosted, experts say there's a spike in the demand for sex-trafficking victims. Sometimes those victims are children.

"Many of those hotel rooms were full with children and minors," said Alan Smyth, executive director of Saving Innocence, a nonprofit group that rescues children from sex traffickers. "And for some, that's a welcome revelation and others not necessarily, but they already paid their money and they showed up and, 'This is what I'm doing.' They've already kind of sold that part of their soul. Once they've crossed the line to actually buy a human being for their own personal gratification, it's a pretty small leap then. They're not going to split hairs in terms of what the age is and those kinds of things. It's pretty heartbreaking for the kids."

The youngest sex-trafficking victim Saving Innocence has helped was just 7 years old.

"Anyone coming to the Super Bowl is wealthy," Smyth said in an interview with ABC7. "The cost of getting into the Super Bowl and going to stay in the expensive hotels and buying the meals. They're not here just for the game. They're probably here for several days, and there's a small percentage of mostly men that will use that as an opportunity, as part of their entertainment to have some form of sexual encounter."

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Los Angeles is already one of the worst cities for human trafficking because of its busy international airport and proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border. And yet 83% of sex trafficking victims in the U.S. are U.S. citizens, according to the Department of Justice.

Oree Freeman is a survivor of child sex trafficking. She was sold on the streets of L.A. thousands of times, from when she was 11 years old until she was 15.

"It's about a grace of God that I'm still alive, out of the things that I experienced," she told ABC7.

Oree says predators can now target anyone because of social media.

"You think, 'Not my child'? Does your children have access to social media? Does your child have access to the internet? No, your child is a vulnerable youth," she said. "It's not just this minority kid, although it might be a large percentage. It's not this minority kid from South Central L.A. that grew up in the projects or in the 'hood that gets exploited. It's also those kids that are on Instagram, on websites and talking to sugar daddies and thinking, 'All I'm gonna do is give somebody a massage,' and they end up in a lifestyle that they don't know how far it's going to take them."

As the city of Inglewood prepares to host Super Bowl LVI, about fourteen groups, including Saving Innocence, are collaborating with the NFL and the Rams as part of the South Los Angeles Anti-Human Trafficking Committee.

Special agents from the Department of Homeland Security are also working quietly in the area.

"We operate in the shadows in order to combat the traffickers that are operating in the shadows," said Eddy Wang, deputy special agent in charge, Homeland Security Investigations Los Angeles. "Now, you may not see us but I promise and assure the public that HSI special agents will be out there protecting the venue, as well as identifying victims, rescuing victims and arresting traffickers during that time."
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