New Orleans, La. — Walk or drive along Bourbon Street and scantily clad women are easy to find. But what federal agents have uncovered in the French Quarter this Super Bowl week goes far beyond that.
"Two days ago we made eight arrests and rescued five women involved, so sadly that kind of misbehavior continues. But we're looking for it," said John Morton, director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The behavior he was speaking of is human sex trafficking. It is a problem wherever the Super Bowl is held.
At a news conference with NFL representatives Thursday, Morton said a task force of federal agents, NOPD officers and others is "hitting the streets, trying to target human trafficking and abusive prostitution."
In this case, the alleged victims thought they were coming to town to work as "female escorts" during the Super Bowl, according to a federal law enforcement official.
"Listen, any time you have a major event and a lot of people coming to town, you worry about people getting exploited," said Ray Parmer, the local special agent-in-charge with ICE.
Often the activity is well orchestrated in a Super Bowl city, occurring clandestinely. "It's always a problem and often it goes undetected, because these are victims and they're coerced into the positions that they're in to perform whatever function that the traffickers want them to do," said Parmer.
The feds said sometimes it's tips, other times it's their own undercover work that lead to these types of arrests. They said they are not after the women or even their customers, who end up being forced to engage in trafficking without realizing it.
"We treat these people as victims. They are not arrested, they are not removed from the United States, we treat them as victims," said Parmer.