The Junior League of Birmingham estimated that human traffickers are making $250 – $275k per victim each year. Birmingham is a prime hub for human trafficking and drug trade because of the I-20 corridor, which connects Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.
40% of human trafficking takes place in the South East US and I-20 is one of the nation’s most active corridors where victims are sold at various stops, according to WellHouse, a human trafficking hotline.
The Bringing the Exploitation of Alabama Minors Program estimated that 5-thousand people are being human trafficked through Alabama each month.
Claims of traffickers began to circulate on campus during early November due to a Facebook post shared by Courtney Reynolds. In the post he shared how he saw two suspicious vehicles in the Davis Hall parking lot. This post was shared across various social media platforms, mainly Snapchat.
Timothy Alexander, UMPD’s chief of police, confirmed that while student’s concerns regarding human traffickers being on campus are legitimate, there has been no proven activity.
“I don’t want to minimize anyone’s concerns by labeling it a rumor, because rumors are something that may have some sort of untruth or are not weighted,” said Alexander. “This is a concern that’s weighted, not just because it’s legitimate to the University or to universities, but it’s legitimate across the nation. This is a concern we have all of the time of young people being abducted. We do believe that sex trafficking is very serious and very real.”
These reports started circulating just weeks after an Auburn student, Aniah Haley Blanchard, was reported missing. She still has not been found.
Most of the claims being circulated have centered around Davis hall, which is where a series of car break ins have occurred. However, Alexander labeled these as “crimes of opportunity” because a majority of them had been left unlocked.
“Please lock your doors,” urged Alexander.
To make things safer on campus, Alexander is hoping that communication with the UM community will improve. He urges all student, faculty and staff to say something if they see something. He wants UMPD to be the forefront of people’s mind if someone feels uncomfortable.
UMPD offers a shuttle service that will transport students from one place to another if they feel unsafe. Chief Alexander explained that students will never be asked to justify their reasoning for feeling unsafe to any of UMPD’s officers.
“If you feel the need to call us, that’s justification enough. If something is not right, you have been given five senses for a reason,” expressed Alexander. “If you’re in a situation where you feel uncomfortable, you should not hesitate or worry about calling us for no reason. If you have that feeling, then you should have already dialed the number.”
Human trafficking, according to Alexander, is something that the police department is taking very seriously and are looking into all reports called into the department.
UMPD investigates every tip that they receive, and so far they have no found any evidence to indicate human trafficking is taking place on campus. However, Alexander doesn’t believe this should take away any of the validity of concerns about human trafficking.
He urges students to stay aware of their surroundings and realize that we all have a duty to keep each other safe.
Human trafficking doesn’t just manifest itself as people being taken. Usually it starts with someone trying to make a personal connection with you, according to Alexander. More often than not, people get sucked into a cycle of bribery that involves being exploited over compromising photos or videos.
Lighting, especially around Davis Hall, is one of UM’s biggest issues that lends itself to nighttime crime.
“It is a serious issue that we are progressively trying to address because we do need more lighting,” said Alexander.
He also explained that students are not the only ones complaining of the lighting issues, other officers, staff and faculty have also voiced their concerns. Most of the reasoning why it’s an issue to get more lighting on campus is due to the structure of the ground and bricks.
The safety of locking down residence halls is another issue that UMPD is currently trying to tackle. The problems stems from residents leaving doors open for others.
“If you see a door or window that’s propped open, close it. Those small things left undone lead to bigger problems.”
Madison Hollon, UM’s SGA vice president, shared that she hopes to spread more information about human trafficking by creating an awareness campaign.
“SGA’s goal right now is to make sure that students are better equipped with knowledge of what is going on, and also to be more prepared so they don’t put themselves in a situation that could potentially be sex trafficking,” Hollon said.
In the past, UMPD has hosted self-defense classes, and they are hoping to offer a schedule for more of these trainings in January.
Alexander described UMPD as a fully functioning police department with officers on duty every day of the year. The department usually runs with two officers per 12 hour shift, which runs from 6 to 6.
To contact a human trafficking hotline 1-888-3737-888 or text “HELP” to 233733 to access help and services. Victims of human trafficking are protected under U.S. law.