The announcement concerning 71 arrests in the lead up to the Super Bowl in Tampa, Florida was made on January 11, National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, by Sheriff Chad Chronister.
"Operation Interception" began on December 7, 2020 and ran through January 9, 2021. While this phase of the operation has come to a conclusion, Chronister has stated that their operations to combat trafficking will continue.
"With less than a month until the big game," Chronister said, "our covert operations continue, seeking those who choose to sexually exploit others here in our community. Our goal, as the operation name explains, is to ‘intercept’ individuals involved in sexual exploitation before they are able to take advantage of vulnerable individuals, and ultimately, to deter others."
"We know from past experiences with major sporting events that there will be some who travel for the exclusive purpose of taking advantage of women and children. I want to make it very clear, if you are planning to engage in the sexual exploitation of others, I'm urging you to think twice. We will find you, and you will be arrested."
The Super Bowl has been known as a trafficking hot-spot for years. Citing the Institute for Sport and Social Justice's "Shut Out Trafficking" program, even ESPN acknowledged that "there's consistently a spice of reported incidents in the U.S. Around January and February (when the Super Bowl takes place). In January 2019, there were approximately 450 reported incidents, with a jump of approximately 540 in February. It dropped down to 140 incidents in March 2019."
Detectives participating in Operation Interception posted advertisements online and even conducted stings on the streets. Those arrested were between the ages of 20 and 60-years-old and included 14 individuals that had been previously arrested for soliciting another to commit prostitution/ remaining in a place for prostitution. Of those 14, 8 were arrested last year and the remaining 6 were arrested in 2019.
Super Bowl 55 will take place on February 7 in Tampa, Florida.
"It all comes back to demand," Chronister stated. "It all comes back to the demand and that's why our operations are focused on eradicating the demand."
Even while some try to argue that the sting operations are entrapment or involve victimless crimes, Chronister showed that they are clearly effective.
During the press conference, he showed a screenshot from an exchange between an undercover detective and a prospective John who eventually decided not to meet.
"Trying to stay away from getting stung... and winding up on a poster while sheriff cronester (sic) explains to the media."
If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking there is help. Please contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 373-7888 or by texting 233733. There is also a live chat option through their website.