Birmingham City Council

Birmingham Spreading Word Against Human Trafficking Ahead of World Games

Crystal Smitherman

When the World Games comes to Birmingham in 2021, it’s projected to bring with it $256 million in economic impact, thanks to an estimated influx of 100,000 athletes and sports fans. But at Tuesday’s meeting of the Birmingham City Council, officials said they were working to prevent a potential unintended consequence of that influx: an uptick in human trafficking.

The council voted Tuesday to pass a resolution calling for a communitywide awareness campaign against human trafficking. The measure, spearheaded by District 6 Councilor Crystal Smitherman and Mayor Randall Woodfin, calls for “comprehensive education of (city) staff and the implementation and enforcement of a zero-tolerance policy of any act that may support human trafficking.”

“An increase in tourists seeking entertainments, including commercial sex, increases the potential risks for exploitation and human trafficking,” Woodfin said Tuesday, reading from a proclamation identical to the council’s resolution. “Traffickers are opportunistic hunters and they see major sporting events … as an opportunity for huge profits with very little risk for penalty or punishment.”

Birmingham sits along the Interstate 20/59 corridor, which has been described as a “superhighway” for sex trafficking. Alabama is often considered a “safe haven” for human trafficking because its laws against it are not as strict as they are in neighboring states.

In recent months, similar efforts to raise awareness of human trafficking have taken place at UAB, in Vestavia Hills, Mountain Brook and Hoover.

Smitherman —  flanked by members of the Junior League, state Rep. Merika Coleman, state Rep. Rodger Smitherman and other community advocates — equated the fight against human trafficking with the Civil Rights movement.

“Birmingham has been the hub of the Civil Rights movement for decades, and we should lead the charge against human trafficking just like we led the charge against the discrimination and mistreatment of black people more than 60 years ago,” she said. “We have to send the message to human traffickers that you are not welcome in our communities.”

In the language of the resolution, “the first step in eliminating human trafficking in our community is to educate others.” That will come in the form of information sessions at neighborhood meetings during the month of January, which is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, Smitherman said. More projects and legislation is expected to follow.