Sunday, July 30, 2017
While people around the country prepare for the once-in-a-lifetime solar eclipse on August 21, groups in Illinois, Kentucky and Nebraska, in the path of the total eclipse, are warning of increased risk of human trafficking during this singular event. According to Amy Leenerts, founder of the non-profit Free 2 Hope, law enforcement agencies are able to anticipate "when and where the crimes are likely to happen by tracking Backpage, a website often used to advertise sex for sale and other criminal activities." And, she reports, "[t]raffic on the site skyrockets during big events like the Kentucky Derby, Farm Machinery Show and NCAA events." She believes that the eclipse will follow this pattern.
Hundreds of thousands of individuals from around the world will be flocking to the path of the total eclipse, often to small towns that seldom receive that level of attention from tourists. Hopkinsville, Kentucky, for example, expects more than 100,000 eclipse watchers to pass through, and NASA predicts up to 500,000 people traveling to watch. According to Melissa Kometscher, a human trafficking specialist for the Salvation Army in Grand Island, Nebraska, people who travel to an event sometimes engage in activities that they wouldn’t try in their own hometowns.
In preparation for the eclipse, the Kentucky Attorney General is offering seminars on human trafficking intervention. Says Sabrina Bishop, an advocate in Hopkinsville, "[w]ith traffickers, they follow the people. They follow the money. They follow large crowds."