The tens of thousands of people expected to attend the 2012 national political conventions may spur sex trafficking in the host cities.
Advocates say the start of the Republican National Convention in Tampa this Monday and the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte a week later could create a corresponding increase in the number of workers who may be compelled involuntarily to perform commercial sexual acts, the Charlotte Observer reported.
U.S. law prohibits forcing, coercing or luring someone into performing labor, services or sexual acts. Children who are sold for sex count automatically as trafficking victims. The forced-sex-trade differs from prostitution, when an adult chooses to sell sex for money.
The demand for commercial sex may rise because convention visitors “feel more free,” Charity Magnuson, director of N.C. Stop Human Trafficking, an advocacy group, told the Charlotte Observer. Conventions and other large-scale events can intensify the problem, which has nothing to do with politics, she added.
As many as 50,000 people could descend on Tampa for the GOP gathering. Another 35,000 might show up for the Democratic confab in Charlotte.
Still, experts say the problem may be more persistent. “The reality is that victims of sex trafficking are for sale in our communities every day, convention or not,” Professor Bridgette Carr, director of the University of Michigan Law School’s Human Trafficking Clinic, told the Daily News.
For their part, the convention cities are cracking down on the illicit sex trade in the run-up to the parties’ quadrennial gatherings.
Police in Tampa recently arrested 16 women in a two-day sweep of a dozen adult establishments, WPTV-TV reported. Between September and January, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police reportedly aided the FBI and Department of Homeland Security in at least five undercover operations to rescue minors from the commercial sex industry.
Magnuson says her group is training hotel staff to spot sex-trafficking signs and calling women who appear in listings for escort services.
“It’s a hidden crime,” Capt. S.C. Voorhees of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police told the Charlotte Observer. “Without the public’s tips, a lot of cases would go undiscovered.”