BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WHNT/WIAT) — A secret law enforcement operation during the World Games led to dozens of arrests and rescues related to human trafficking in Birmingham.

The operation, known as “Operation Games STOP (Strategic Trafficking Operation)” involved Homeland Security Investigations, as well as different local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

“Major events tend to bring in a lot of extra people into a community,” said Doug Gilmer, resident agent in charge for Homeland Security investigations in Birmingham. “They bring in a lot of extra money. With extra people comes an increase in demand for commercial sex which often leads to an increase in trafficking situations.”

The city of Birmingham is known as a southern hot spot for trafficking between Georgia and Tennessee. Gilmer told News 19 that preparation for the bust started as soon as Birmingham was announced as the host for the World Games four years ago.

During the operation, which lasted approximately four weeks, the following arrests were made in Birmingham:

  • 34 arrests of commercial sex buyers
  • Six arrests on human trafficking-related charges
  • Eight arrests of adult men for online enticement of a minor and traveling to meet a minor for sex

In addition, the following rescues were also made:

  • 15 adult sex trafficking victims identified and provided services
  • Four minor victims of labor trafficking identified and provided services 
  • Two minor sex trafficking victims identified and provided services 
  • 11 minor victims of online sexual exploitation and sextortion identified
  • Seven adult labor trafficking victims identified and provided services
  • Seven missing and endangered minors were located, recovered, and provided services

Identifying someone in a trafficking ring is not always as easy as the media and movies make it seem, according to Gilmer. A slew of training began around the state, covering public education and outreach on trafficking. These tips laid the groundwork for World Games staff, law enforcement officers, hospitality workers, and even athletes.

During the operation, Homeland Security and helping agencies came across victims related to trafficking organizations from across the country. Sex and labor workers were among the majority with most being women and children.

Gilmer said without the amount of training and education leading to the games, the number of people trafficked could have been significantly higher.

“Major sporting events like this routinely attract transnational criminal organizations and other bad actors involved in illicit criminal activity such as human exploitation crimes, drug trafficking and the sale of counterfeit merchandise,” Special Agent in Charge Katrina W. Berger said in a statement from Homeland Security. “Working in conjunction with our federal, state and local law enforcement partners we executed a successful operation that disrupted potential threats to public safety, rescued many human trafficking victims and connected them with the trauma-informed victim support services that they will need to recover.” 

Law enforcement agencies that took part in the operation include:

  • Alabama Fusion Center
  • Birmingham Police Department
  • Alabama Attorney General’s Office
  • Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office
  • Fultondale Police Department
  • Bessemer Police Department
  • Shelby County Sheriff’s Office
  • McLennan County Texas Sheriff’s Office
  • Jacksonville, Ala. Police Department
  • Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office
  • Hoover Police Department
  • Oxford Police Department
  • East Metro Area Crime Center
  • Homewood Police Department
  • Vestavia Hills Police Department
  • Butler County Sheriff’s Office
  • Gwinnett County (Georgia) Sheriff’s Office
  • Tuscaloosa Police Department
  • Northport Police Department
  • West Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force
  • FBI 

While Gilmer calls the operation a success, he says with millions affected by human trafficking every day, people should always remain aware.

To learn more about the signs of human trafficking and how you can make a difference, visit https://www.dhs.gov/blue-campaign.