Survivor, advocates bring awareness to human trafficking prevention in Arizona

Jan 27, 2023, 4:35 AM

Sarah de Carvalh, CEO of It's a Penalty. (Photo by Brittany Murray/Getty Images)...

Sarah de Carvalh, CEO of It's a Penalty. (Photo by Brittany Murray/Getty Images)

(Photo by Brittany Murray/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — As human trafficking continues to alarm the nation, advocates and a survivor in Arizona discussed bringing awareness to human trafficking prevention on Wednesday.

“Every experience was a rock bottom for me. Thinking about what I just did, thinking about what I had to endure, wanting those late nights and early mornings to be over,” Alicia Tucker said.

Tucker was one of more than 100,000 children who are sold for sex every year in the United States. She was 15 when she was forced into sexual slavery, just slightly older than 14 years old, the average age of sexually trafficked victims in Arizona.

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Not everyone who is trafficked is forced into sex acts. Other forms of trafficking include forced labor and debt bondage where a person is forced to work for little compensation while paying off debt.

“With 50-million trapped in modern day slavery today, human trafficking is the fastest growing and second largest illegal industry in the world,” Sarah de Carvalho said, CEO of the anti-human trafficking awareness campaign It’s a Penalty.

No city is exempt and that includes Arizona, de Carvalho said at the It’s a Penalty: Super Bowl LVII Arizona Campaign launch and press conference on Wednesday.

That’s especially true with the Super Bowl coming to town and with potential trafficking activity. In fact, the big game is the reason de Carvalho and other anti-trafficking organizations met in Phoenix this week.

Her organization, which uses sports to increase human trafficking awareness, has partnered with Valley hotel and travel industries to provide education to employees and travelers about the warning signs of human trafficking.

De Carvalho said some of the educational programs include a training seminar with Hilton Hotel employees and an awareness campaign video on Southwest and American Airlines flights.

Human trafficking is a constant issue, however, and it won’t end when the Super Bowl does. Certain populations in Arizona remain at high risk.

“The people, the predators who are traffickers, they will take advantage of any vulnerability that exists,” January Contreras, assistant secretary for the administration for Children and Families, told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

“That could be language barriers, immigration status, it could be poverty; and those things come together to make Latinos a high risk.”

The Native American population is also disproportionately targeted, Mary Kim Titla, executive director of the United National Indian Tribal Youth, said during the conference.

“Indigenous people make up only 1.1% of the U.S. population, yet they account for nearly 25% of human trafficking victims,” Titla said.

Greed is a major factor in the boom of human trafficking.

“Traffickers can make between $4,000 and $50,000 per victim, and it’s even more lucrative of a crime than drug trafficking,” Donna Bartos, CEO of the anti-abuse organization Bloom 365 told KTAR News.

She added another root cause includes traffickers devaluing a person based on gender, sexual orientation, race, religion or economic status.

Another major reason human trafficking continues to exist is the demand for it.

“Without consumers, there’s no demand, and that’s going to take eradicating the social disease at the root level by educating whole generations of young people,” Bartos said.

Jeremy Vallerand with the global anti-trafficking organization Atlas Free said during the conference that people created the problem, therefore they can create a solution.

“We can dismantle human trafficking across Arizona, across the United States and around the world,” Vallerand said.

Until then, there will be more stories like Tucker’s, but with that comes stories of triumph in the face of tragedy.

“I am a survivor, I am a mother, I have a voice and I’m here to stand up against human trafficking,” Tucker said.

For more information on the signs of human trafficking, visit online.

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Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

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Survivor, advocates bring awareness to human trafficking prevention in Arizona