Human trafficking growing as Super Bowl in the Valley nears

PHOENIX - A nationwide prostitution bust with ties to Arizona may have only been the tip of iceberg.

The ring was based out of San Diego.

Federal prosecutors say the victims, including 11 minors, were treated like slaves.

Experts warn this bust did little to stop the growing problem of human trafficking.

Phoenix police say human trafficking is growing-- but so is awareness of the problem.

Since the Super Bowl is coming to the Valley in about a year, human trafficking is getting a lot more attention. And not just from police.

Activists want to stop it in its tracks.

It's been called modern day slavery, and it's happening more than you think.

"I myself am a survivor of sex trafficking. And it happened in Phoenix," said 28-year-old Savannah Sanders.

Sanders escaped from that life at 17 years old. She says it all started when she was 16, just eight miles away from her house.

"It's really like a mental prison," she said. "You get stuck in survival mode, and that's all you know, all you think you're worth."

Now she's made it her mission to help other victims become survivors.

"The bottom line is this issue wouldn't exist if we didn't have demand for it," she said.

Lt. Jim Gallagher leads the vice enforcement unit with Phoenix police.

He says victims can be anyone from any part of town.

"It's shocking to think about, and a lot of times we don't want to think about what makes us uncomfortable, but it is a very real problem in our city," he said.

A year away from the Super Bowl here in Arizona, police are gearing up to promote awareness before more traffickers hit the streets.

"The more people we have looking for this problem, the more likely we are to find the victim," Gallagher said.

Activists say it's an opportunity to get more people onboard to help.

"There is a lot of trafficking that happens around the Super Bowl, but there's a lot of trafficking that's happening every single day," Sanders said.

Sanders hopes the effort to fight it doesn't stop there. She wants more victims to have a chance at freedom like her.

"I love who I am and I love my life now, and I'm able to do a lot of amazing things that I never thought I would live to see," she said.

Sanders now works as a program coordinator at the TRUST office, helping other human trafficking victims.

Starting Monday you'll see digital billboards across the Valley promoting a hotline for community members like you to report anonymous tips of suspected trafficking.

It's also a place for victims to call to get help. This public awareness campaign is really a team effort. Clear Channel Outdoor is donating ad space for the hotline, with the help of Polaris Project, TRUST and Cindy McCain.

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