Increase in human trafficking could happen during the Formula 1 weekend, police say

Lizzie Jespersen

Anti-human trafficking efforts during the Formula 1 weekend are a focus for law enforcement units who suspect an increase in trafficking over the race weekend. 

Over the course of the F1 weekend, there could be anywhere between 200 to 300 thousand tourists in Austin, according to Austin Police Commander William Manno.

According to Laurie Cook Heffron, School of Social Work Institute for Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault research coordinator, there is a concern shared by many people that with any increase in visitors to a city, there will potentially be an increase in the number of people being exploited.

“The logic is that if there is an increase in the commercial sex industry, there could also be an increase in human trafficking for sex within that industry,” Heffron said. 

Last year’s police department’s anti-trafficking efforts included collaborations with many local nonprofits to create Cap Metro awareness ads and other city-wide efforts. Bob Miljenovich, Austin Police Department Human Trafficking and Vice Unit sergeant, said these efforts were successful in raising awareness but did not lead to any trafficking-related arrests. This year, the human trafficking unit will take a much more under-the-radar approach to overturning sex trafficking operations, Miljenovich said. 

“We’re keeping it quiet and not putting it out to the public,” Miljenovich said. “As far as the public stance, [the community] can do more of an education and outreach type thing…This means really looking for people that look like they’re not free to leave, that look like they’re being controlled, manipulated.”

Business freshman Brianna Spiller said she does not know much about the suspected increases in trafficking over F1 weekend, but suspects that it would be a huge problem.

“Of course it’s extremely important,” Spiller said. “I will probably look it up and see what goes on during a Formula 1 weekend … I definitely think people who are going should protect themselves and know what to look for.”

Miljenovich said the best thing for locals to do to contribute to anti-trafficking efforts over the race weekend is to raise awareness.

“It’s something that’s commonly looked at by citizens that’s something that’s always happening somewhere else, or that always happens in the movies,” Miljenovich said. “It’s very surprising to people in Austin that it happens here too … [The community can help by] stepping up and saying that human trafficking is not condoned so that we don’t have the environment in our city where it’s easy for that to happen.”