Super highway sees more than ‘car’ traffic

Human trafficking does not happen just in third world countries.  The “super highway of human trafficking” is Alabama’s Interstate 20 that cuts through Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and Anniston, said Fundraising Chair for END IT Alabama David Pinkleton.

The Super Bowl generates billions of dollars in sales and ad revenues each year. It not only draws millions of viewers, but also individuals looking to profit from the sales of another commodity—humans.

“The Super Bowl is actually the largest human trafficking event, sportswise, in the country,” said Fundraising Chair for END IT Alabama David Pinkleton. END IT Alabama is a project of the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force.

Traffickers see environments where there are large quantities of people, like the Super Bowl, as perfect places to bring in girls and boys, he said. People are focused on the event rather than what is going on around them.

Junior Dominic Summerhill said he thinks human trafficking is a topic people should pay more attention to.

“It’s something I think people forget about,” he said.

Some estimates show traffickers will make approximately $32 billion annually from the sale of humans, while other estimates are as high as $150 billion, according to the End it Alabama website. Unlike drugs and arms dealing, traffickers can continue to exploit their victims by selling them over and over again.

In a proclamation last month, President Obama declared January National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

“One hundred and fifty years ago, our Nation codified the fundamental truth that slavery is an affront to human dignity,” he said in the proclamation. “Still, the bitter fact remains that millions of men, women and children around the globe, including here at home, are subject to modern-day slavery: the cruel, inhumane practice of human trafficking.”

Pinkleton said though he is not aware of any specific cases in Lauderdale County, it does not mean there is not something happening “under the radar.”

Senior Jessica Fowler said she thinks it could happen anywhere and people should stay aware of their surroundings.

“Someone could easily pull up behind you and try and kidnap you, and no one would ever know you went missing or know what happened.”

With U.S. Highway 72 cutting through the county on the way to Memphis, it is possible the area could be a pass-through, Pinkleton said.

“Huntsville is in the hub of other human trafficking hotspots in the southeast like Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, Atlanta and Birmingham,” he said. “Atlanta has been designated as the number one hotspot in the country for human trafficking, and we’re just a couple hours away.”

The “super highway of human trafficking” is Alabama’s Interstate 20 that cuts through Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and Anniston, Pinkleton said.

Development Director for The WellHouse Ashley Anderson said the organization in Leeds takes in women, ages 18 and over, from Alabama and throughout the U.S. who have been sexually exploited or trafficked.

In the past three to four years The WellHouse has rescued over 300 women, she said.

Victims go to the immediate shelter where they stay for an initial 30 to 45 days, she said.

“I wish I could tell you that they all stay with us, but unfortunately there are instances when they do leave,” she said. “It’s a voluntary program. We give them every resource available for them to begin healing.”

Women will leave for a number of reasons, she said. One is they have a very unhealthy relationship with the trafficker and even look at him as a boyfriend.

“That is often times the only lifestyle she knows and the only person she knows because she’s been so dependent on him,” she said.

After the initial period, the organization helps women get new IDs and birth certificates, she said.

If the woman makes the decision to stay, she moves next door to the long-term shelter where she learns valuable job skills, she said.

Anderson said The WellHouse wants to educate parents and children on the dangers of what is happening in their own backyard.

“The grooming process begins between 12 to 14 years of age,” she said. “That’s that prime age when they get their phones and social media, and then they get sucked into this lifestyle.”

Pinkleton encourages people to visit the website for more information on how to help victims of human trafficking.