KENNEWICK, Wash. - Water Follies brings thousands of people to the Tri-Cities, and that means it brings something else - an increased risk of sex trafficking.
"Clients I work with here would let us know that during large events like boat races they would have to service a lot more customers," said Tricia MacFarlan, executive director of Mirror Ministries, a local organization that helps survivors of sex trafficking.
MacFarlan said national statistics show an increase in sex trafficking during large events, and local law enforcement monitoring online activity has often seen an increase in people being advertised as well.
MacFarlan and her staff at Mirror Ministries have been working hard to raise awareness ahead of time. Their focus has primarily been the hotels in the region that will be hosting all of those traveling from out of town.
"We try and get out there and talk to those people that are on the front lines," she said. "In this case - hoteliers."
Mirror Ministries has hosted trainings at over 40 local hotels leading up to Water Follies weekend to help staff learn what to look out for. The organization has also put up posters of missing kids. Statistics from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children show that one in three runaway children are going to be approached by a trafficker within 48 hours.
"So it's possible these kids could show up in the Tri-Cities this weekend," said MacFarlan.
For the guests, Mirror Ministries staff provide the hotels with three days' worth of soaps that have a national and local trafficking hotline on the wrapper. They also leave brochures in the rooms with more information on sex trafficking warning signs.
"We can all make a difference we just have to be aware and actually be willing to talk to people rather than just walking past the person that makes you feel uncomfortable," said MacFarlan. "Make eye contact and say hello, and if somebody looks like they need help, ask."
To learn more about Mirror Ministries, click here.
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