Modern Day Slavery: Saving young lives from sex trafficking

Modern Day Slavery: Saving young lives from sex trafficking (Source: WEAR-TV)

Glittering lights and larger than life attractions draw 44 million visitors to Las Vegas Boulevard each year.

But that glitz and glamour is an open invitation for other activity.

"Hi, you guys, we are with The Big Search we are looking for our missing children here in Las Vegas would you like to take a flyer,” said Mary Ballinger, a volunteer with The Big Search.

Mary Ballinger is one of 250 volunteers taking part in the three-day effort.

It’s where people canvass the streets, handing out flyers and gathering tips, that’ll potentially lead them to males and females listed as missing by the state of Nevada.

Those missing have been identified by law enforcement as vulnerable, with a great chance of being exploited or sexually trafficked.

Brad Dennis is a co-founder of The Big Search.

He runs two anti-trafficking groups out of Pensacola, Florida called Two Rescue and Klaaskids.

“We do come out here because we have good partners with, like I said with the community, with the different foundations that exist out here,” said Dennis.

That includes Dennis’ relationship with Michael Bartell.

Bartell runs the Vegas-based group Free International which is aimed to end sex and labor trafficking.

Bartell is the other founder of The Big Search. The men met in 2010.

"We joined Brad to do Super Bowl outreach around the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area to do Super Bowl outreach," said Bartell.

And the concept of conducting outreach efforts around the Super Bowl, that also originated from Dennis and his work with the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking in 2009.

"Unfortunately its like the perfect storm. It's not one game, it's not one day of an event, it's actually a whole week of events and this party atmosphere that's centered around money, right? And men,” said Dennis.

Up until two years ago, Dennis would travel with his team and other advocacy groups from different states, to the city hosting the super bowl.

"Now a lot of organizations and agencies really picked that mantle up. The FBI and law enforcement are doing tremendous, tremendous things," said Dennis.

Because of this groundswell Dennis and Bartell have shifted their focus to Las Vegas –in the days leading up to, and the days after the Super Bowl.

"There are certain spikes throughout the year and super bowl is one of them. Because Las Vegas has been one of the places where you can gamble on the game," said Bartell. "So, the more money that's flowing into this economy, the more pimps, traffickers will want their girls here to capitalize on that disposable income while they're here."

And that’s what volunteers like Mary Ballinger are betting on – in hopes of finding these faces in need of help.

Another important thing to note: The Super Bowl isn’t the only event that attracts sex trafficking, it can happen with any type of event that draws a big crowd.

Not just that, but trafficking occurs on a smaller scale – every single day of the year.

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