Businesses were booming and fans were excited during the NBA Finals. But the bars, restaurants and shops were not the only businesses benefiting from the added tourists and extra cash flow.
According to police, big events like the NBA Finals attract sex traffickers looking to make a profit. With more people in town, it’s easier to find customers, said Sgt. James Mackey, who is the assistant director of the Human Trafficking Task Force in the Cuyahoga region.
“Our main objective is to get the victims out of human trafficking, out of that situation and allow them to go to a safe space," Mackey added. “From there we start wrapping them with a blanket of support.”
Last year the task force helped 127 victims. This year, through the month of May, they’ve already helped 81.
Annette Mango personally knows the importance of their work. She was addicted to cocaine and sex trafficked for 15 years.
“That’s all I wanted was drugs. When you get what you want then you feel that you are in control.”
But, of course, she wasn't in control.
“Being sex trafficked you are held against your will,” she explained. “They say, 'Here goes some drugs, you have to have sex with me.'"
Annette remembered big events created more opportunities to make money.
“I would be told I need my hair and nails and stuff done. The money is downtown,” she recalled. “I know how to go out there, get the men, attract them and make the money.”
So while many were excited and watching the games during the NBA Finals, for sex trafficking victims, the climate provided a great fear.
“I am just hoping for the best this time around,” Annette said before Game 3. “We didn’t choose to be this way. Please think about your mothers, your sisters, your aunties, your children. Would you want somebody to do this to anybody in your family?”