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Austin, F1 and the Black Market in Human Trafficking

As the City of Austin gears up to host some extra 90,000 out of state fans during the Formula 1 Grand Prix, the Austin Police Department is preparing for another increase – a potential increase in human trafficking cases.

Police say trafficking cases rise with every big influx of visitors into a city. “When there's an increased demand for a product, there's going to be an increase in supply,” says Sergeant Keith Suitt with the Austin Police Department's Human Trafficking Unit. “And we expect that for a lot of events so we try to address that."

The City of Austin’s Public Safety Commission is scheduled to receive an update on local human trafficking cases at its meeting this afternoon. It’s a subject that’s very important to Luis CdeBaca, the U.S. Ambassador appointed to combat modern day slavery around the world.

Ambassador CdeBaca visited the University of Texas' School of Social Work in October to speak at the Central Texas Coalition for Human Trafficking conference. According to CdeBaca, human trafficking victims around the world have reached the unprecedented number of 27 million.

"A part of that is because of globalization,” CdeBaca says. “As we now have a situation where the costs are recruiting, tricking, transporting, and then holding someone through force and coercion are lower than they’ve ever been."

He calls trafficking an "insidious" crime, one that requires not only law enforcement, but also social workers and medical professionals to "unpack that diabolical relationship that the traffickers use to trap their victims."

“I kind of think of it this way,” CdeBaca says. “If someone said there was going to be a sporting event in Austin next weekend and there would be five murders, people would be very, very concerned. If someone said there was going to be a sporting event next week and there was going to be five kidnappings, people would be very, very concerned. Human trafficking is the same thing as a kidnapping. … It’s not necessarily thousands and thousands of people, but every one of these people is a serious case.”

Reshma Kirpalani works as a freelancer at KUT News.
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