Rescue program ‘runs interference’ on Super Bowl sex trafficking

In Our Backyard recruits Houston-area businesses to offer lifeline for women enslaved in forced prostitution

HOUSTON, Texas — Houston-area businesses have been recruited by anti-human trafficking group In Our Backyard (www.inourbackyard.org) to help “run interference” on sex slavery when the city hosts the Super Bowl next month.

In Our Backyard Founder and Executive Director Nita Belles

With sex trafficking expected to mushroom as thousands of visitors pour into the city leading up to the Feb. 5 event, convenience stores across the area are being asked to offer a lifeline of hope to those trapped in forced prostitution.

Almost 2,000 members of the Greater Houston Retailers Cooperative Association (GHRA) are being provided with hotline contact information and bathroom stall stickers to be posted. The stickers declare “There is freedom from those who are hurting you!” and provide toll-free and text numbers for the National Human Trafficking Hotline, so victims can seek help. CEO of GHRA, Mike Thompson said, “We were glad to cooperate with such an important and worthwhile initiative.”

The Freedom Stickers were initiated by In Our Backyard, an anti-human trafficking organization that has led anti-trafficking work surrounding the last seven Super Bowls. IOB Founder and Executive Director Nita Belles will announce a nationwide roll-out of the Convenience Stores Against Trafficking (CSAT) program at a conference at Houston’s South Main Baptist Church on Jan. 28.

Additionally, volunteers will be distributing to convenience stores and others a booklet featuring pictures and information about missing children. “One in three runaways will be lured towards sex trafficking within 48 hours of running away. These books are helpful in recovering children every year,” said Belles.

“Thousands of women, children and even some men across the country are caught up in the horrors of sex trafficking, convinced that there is no way out, and convenience stores can be a first line of help for these victims,” said Belles. “We’re so glad for the support of businesses like these as we seek to link arms across America to help bring an end to this atrocity.”

As part of the national expansion of CSAT, IOB is asking convenience store chains across the nation to join their efforts. In addition to the information stickers, IOB has produced a video for businesses, spotlighting some of the signs that someone might be a trafficking victim and advising how to contact the authorities to report a concern.

The goal of the CSAT project is to saturate travel corridors with trained personnel, outreach to victims, and opportunities for critical support. Convenience stores and similar businesses are commonly frequented by traffickers who take their victims there to buy fuel, alcohol, cigarettes, and condoms, and use the bathrooms to clean up between sex buyers. “We want to partner with convenience stores in this opportunity to help. They can be heroes in this fight,” said Belles.

“Human trafficking happens 24/7, 365 days a year, in every zip code in America,” she said, but explodes around big events like the Super Bowl: “You have a large number of people, predominantly men, there to have a good time and with disposable income.”

Belles began working in the anti-human trafficking movement in 2006 and has become a recognized leader. She is often called upon as an expert by news media and others on anti-trafficking. Her book, In Our Backyard: Human Trafficking and What We Can Do to Stop It, is widely acknowledged as an authoritative source on the issue.

IOB was instrumental in the passing of a bill enacted last year that requires Freedom Stickers to be sent out with the renewals of all liquor licenses in the State of Oregon.

More information is available at www.inourbackyard.org.

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