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Organizations prepare to address human trafficking ahead of All-Star Weekend

Posted at 6:31 PM, Feb 09, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — While many are excited about the NBA All-Star basketball weekend, others are worried about the dangers the influx of people could bring like human trafficking.

It's something that has been on Renee LaGrant's mind as the weekend nears.

"Poor little girls, poor poor little girls and women," she said.

At 16 years old, LaGrant was a victim of human trafficking in Utah, and she says it was not easy to escape.

"I wasn't supposed to leave," said LaGrant. "And he broke my kneecap with a golf club. And so it's very, very dangerous."

She said it's the type of events like the All-Star Game that make her nervous for other victims out there.

"It's a dangerous space for women who are being exploited," agreed the founder of Journey of Hope Shannon Miller Cox. The organization works with survivors of human and sex trafficking.

At last year's All-Star Game in Cleveland, a task force arrested eight men as part of a crackdown on human trafficking.

Cox said organizations like hers are preparing to help the victims and survivors.

“All-star weekend, we have acquired 50 beds, and we would like to help transition 50 women," said Cox. "If they want to transition here to help them with warrants if they have warrants out of state, we will do whatever women need women, then they males, youth.”

Spokesperson for the Salt Lake City Police Department Brent Weisberg said they will be ramping up patrols not only near Vivint Arena, but throughout downtown.

“We have a squad that is specifically dedicated to investigating human trafficking. They’re gonna be out assisting our patrol officers," said Weisberg. "I can't get into specifics about what we are doing, but we have absolutely taken a serious look at the potential for human trafficking to be occurring during the All-Star Game Weekend."

Given the nature of the crime, Weisberg said it's hard to pinpoint if there is an increase in trafficking during big events like the All-Star Game, but with hundreds of thousands of people coming to the city, he said it's definitely something on their radar.

“Human trafficking happens in the darkness, we don’t always see it upfront. Our officers are specifically trained to look for signs of someone who is being trafficked," he said. "So we want to do everything that we can to make sure that they feel comfortable coming forward to us.

LaGrant said everyone in the state can play a role in looking out for signs of trafficking during the weekend.

“If you drive by and you see something that doesn't look right or you see a young girl who's stumbling and doesn't look right, stop and say something," said LaGrant. "You know, go with your gut, say something to somebody.”