An extensive investigation and operation into human trafficking during the 2022 World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, yielded multiple arrests and the recovery of several trafficked children.
The operation, run by Department of Homeland Security’s investigative arm, Homeland Security Investigations, was headed by agent Doug Gilmer, resident agent in charge of the operation.
Gilmer said that human traffickers take advantage of large sporting events such as the Super Bowl and The World Games because “they bring in a lot of people and a huge influx of disposable cash that creates a greater potential for commercial sex,” and said that “we wanted to get ahead of that.”
Therefore, planning for the operation began three years before the event, which ran from July 7-17.
The World Games is governed by the International World Games Association and is a multisport competition for events not included in the Olympic Games, such as surfing, bowling, tug of war, and powerlifting.
The games first occurred in Santa Clara, California, in 1981, and the Birmingham games were the first time they had returned to the United States since.
Preparation for the operation, referred to as Operation Games STOP, involved a lot of public outreach, Gilmer said, which involved working with local and state partners as well as placing human trafficking information in as many locations across the state as possible, including airports and rest stops.
Law enforcement officers, health care workers and up to 3,500 event staff all received special training in preparation for the operation.
“Staff in over 80 hotels in the Birmingham metro area were trained on what to look for in terms of potential cases of human trafficking that might be taking place within their hotels,” Gilmer said.
The operations were used to both identify individual operations as well as locate networks of trafficking systems.
“We identified networks that are operating cross-country, from Los Angeles to Atlanta,” he said.
The arrested included 34 commercial sex buyers, six human traffickers, and eight men who sought out the trafficked minors online and traveled to meet them for sex, Gilmer said.
The victims included 15 adult sex trafficking victims, two minor sex trafficking victims, four minor victims of labor trafficking and 11 minor victims of online sexual exploitation and sextortion, Gilmer said. Sextortion involves the extortion of sexual acts by threatening to share the victim’s private images or videos of a sexual nature or threatening to harm the victim’s family and friends.
In addition to these and other arrests, federal agents identified seven missing and endangered minors who had been reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
The underage victims were recovered and provided services.
“Everything we do is conducted around a victim-centered and trauma-informed approach,” Gilmer said. “Our goal is to provide assistance for every victim through partners we work with such as the Children’s of Alabama hospital, Alabama Department of Human Resources, and child protective services.”
“If we had only recovered one missing kid during this whole operation, it would have been a success,” he added. “But we recovered seven missing kids, so I would say it was a tremendous success.”
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