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No evidence sporting events like Drake Relays cause increased human trafficking, Iowa advocacy group says

The Iowa Office to Combat Human Trafficking received 43 tips about human trafficking in 2020.

DES MOINES, Iowa — The Drake Relays attract floods of visitors to the Des Moines metro every year, and according to Catch Des Moines, local hotels are usually anywhere from 80% to 90% full during the event.

You might have heard concerns that all those visitors can lead to an uptick in human trafficking. But advocates say that isn't necessarily the case.

According to the most recent data from the Iowa Office to Combat Human Trafficking, the agency investigated 43 human trafficking tips in 2020, and 18 during the first half of 2021. According to MacKenzie Bills, a board member of the Iowa Network Against Human Trafficking, there is no evidence that large tourist events like the Relays cause that number to spike.

"Traffickers don't want to go where there's large crowds because there's lots of law enforcement, so they're more likely to actually be elsewhere," Bills said.

The Relays aren't the only sporting event that attracts rumors like this. A similar story surrounded the Super Bowl. Despite some persistent rumors, there is no evidence that the big game is the biggest sex trafficking event in the world.

Bills isn't sure exactly why those stories continue to stick, but said some of it might have to do with people not knowing the difference between sex trafficking and sex work more broadly.

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"They could be working, but that doesn't mean that they were coerced or forced into that act, which is the definition of human trafficking," she said.

Many trafficking incidents do involve abductions or a person being taken somewhere away from where they live, but the biggest threat is often much closer to home.

"In your own home or in your own community, you're more likely to be trafficked by someone that you already know, whether that's a family member, an employer, a friend, someone that you've met online," Bills said.

Anyone who suspects human trafficking is occurring in any form is asked to call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

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