Group raises awareness of trafficking ahead of World Games
Birmingham has a reputation as a major center for human trafficking, according to law enforcement and other officials.
This is true in part because the city is central to several major transportation routes – highways 20, 59, and 65.
I-20 has often been dubbed a “highway” for human trafficking.
Recently, a group of local women who have long been concerned about trafficking and women’s issues put up a billboard on I-65 to draw attention to the problem.
The Zonta Club of Birmingham installed the billboard on I-65 North near Interstate 459 in Hoover on December 4, and then another billboard on Oxmoor Road in Homewood in January.
The billboard contains the message “See something. Say something,” which means residents must report what they consider suspicious activity.
“The billboard is in response to the 2022 World Games in Birmingham,” Bouler said.
The World Games will take place in the Birmingham area from July 7-17 this year and are expected to attract around 100,000 visitors from around the world to the city.
Club members fear that the World Games will cause an increase in demand for sex trafficking.
The City of Homewood has also tackled the issue of human trafficking, Homewood Police Sgt. said John Carr.
“It’s not widespread, but it does exist,” Carr said.
Carr said the department has conducted several undercover operations over the past few years, coordinating with federal authorities, including the FBI, in an effort to end the practice.
In 2021, Homewood police rescued five victims, Carr said.
Carr agreed that the World Games carry a risk of “increased activity” in the trafficking world.
The police are trained in dealing with victims and detecting trafficking. Carr said for those who want to help out and keep a watchful eye, they can seek out younger women with men. Females often do not move away from the male, do not make eye contact, and often go from hotel to hotel or changing rooms.
Other officials have expressed similar concern, including Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin.
“An increase in the number of tourists seeking entertainment, including commercial sex, increases the potential risks of exploitation and human trafficking,” Woodfin said in December 2019, according to a report by Birmingham watch.
The Zonta Club of Birmingham was formed in 1940 by professional women who were not allowed to join the then male-only Kiwanis and Rotary clubs. The goal is to empower women through service and advocacy.
Zonta of Birmingham has long been aware of human trafficking as it is a major issue with Zonta International, Bouler said.
The international organization has chapters in 63 countries and works with the United Nations to provide financial support and technical assistance to women and children in developing countries.
The local club has about 35 members and has tackled the issue of human trafficking in the past, sponsoring programs, speakers and posters in restaurant restrooms, Bouler said.
For several years the club funded billboards in Birmingham with the message ‘Say no to violence against women’. “We also support the YWCA Women’s Shelter and hope the message on the billboard helps,” Bouler said.
The club also promotes women’s issues online, said club member Alison Smith.