ATLANTA — Marni Perrymond has been behind the wheel with Uber for four years now, but this week brought new meaning to her job.
She pointed to a black and red wristband, calling it the best conversation starter; it’s branded with “STOP HUMAN TRAFFICKING” and “#ITSAPENALTY.”
“People are busy, and when they’re in the car with me, they can’t go anywhere,” Perrymond told Fox News. “We’re having this conversation [about human trafficking] on the way to their destination, so it makes me feel really good.”
She recently received training to spot human trafficking, as part of an effort to crack down on the issue as the Super Bowl draws tens of thousands of out-of-towners to Atlanta. Perrymond shares the warning signs with everyone that gets in her car.
“Do you all talk about [human trafficking] a lot, at school or groups, anything like that?” Perrymond asked a Georgia State University law student.
This week alone, Homeland Security Investigations made 40 arrests tied to human trafficking and rescued four victims in the Atlanta area.
“We’re also ensuring that criminals don’t use these events to exploit the most vulnerable among us,” Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said at a press conference in Georgia’s capital Wednesday.
“ICE HSI has seen first-hand the negative impact of human trafficking following the mass movement of people in the metro Atlanta area for Super Bowl 53,” a press release from the Department of Homeland Security read.
Many advocates warn massive sporting events are particularly appealing to traffickers because of the surge in high-spending travelers.
One human trafficking hotline saw a 300 percent increase in calls around last year’s Super Bowl, according to the It’s a Penalty campaign.
This surge is what draws the campaign’s CEO, Sarah de Carvalho, to popular sporting events around the world, from the World Cup to the Olympics. But she called this year’s campaign “the most comprehensive ever.”
“There are people that come in with money, they’re away from home, they’re looking for entertainment, and in their minds, ‘What happens away from home, stays away from home,’” de Carvalho said.
It’s a Penalty, along with its one dozen partners, are tackling human trafficking by air, road and water. An education video is aired on all American Airlines and British Airways flights in January and February, potentially reaching 40 million passengers. The International Human Trafficking Institute trained 8,000 Lyft and Uber drivers in Atlanta, like Perrymond, to identify and report trafficking. Several hundred volunteers handed out bars of soap, wrapped with the National Human Trafficking Hotline number, to “Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution.”
Mary Frances Bowley, the founder of Wellspring Living (one of the participating partners in the It’s a Penalty campaign), recalled what the awareness efforts were like in Atlanta in 2000 – the last time a Super Bowl was held in the city.
“It was as if I was talking to a wall,” she laughed. Bowley applauded the army of people spreading the word today, calling it “unbelievably higher.”
“The reason why we believe it’s about working with the airlines, working with the hotels, working with other non-governmental organizations that have the same heart [is because] it’s only by coming together that we can really make a difference,” de Carvalho told Fox News.
And sex trafficking survivor Gaby Humphries, who used to spend each hour of the day being pimped out to another “client,” hopes it’s a difference that can last.
“This is an all the time thing, not just a Super Bowl thing,” she told Fox News.
Perrymond said she doesn’t plan on taking off her #ItsaPenalty wristband any time soon or stop having conversations with passengers about human trafficking.
“The value of the training will go beyond the Super Bowl,” Perrymond said, after dropping off a group of three passengers. “This isn’t something you can just shrug off once you really know the intricacies of what’s going on.”
Atlanta had the largest underground commercial sex economy in 2007 at $290 million, according to the Urban Institute. This is nearly 2.5 times bigger than the 2013 payroll of the Atlanta Falcons.
If you suspect trafficking, you can call 1-888-373-7888 or text ‘BeFREE’ to 233733.
Advocates say to look for a combination of these signs to spot potential exploitation and trafficking:
? Maybe be easily startled, agitated or afraid
? Unsure of where they are
? Unable to explain injuries or possessions
? May have strange markings/brandings/tattoos
? Unexplained hotel use
? Accompanied by older ‘boyfriend’/companion
? Dressed up to look older than they are.