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FBI tries new approach in Super Bowl sex trafficking fight

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — For the first time in the FBI’s efforts to crack down on sex trafficking during the Super Bowl, the agency will try to reach out to women and girls selling sex in the run-up to the game.

FBI officials say the goal is to give them a way out and get them to turn against their traffickers.

The softer, victim-centric approach will rely on local nonprofit groups to make initial contact with victims before the bureau steps in to provide them access to its victims’ advocates and other services.

“The goal is to reach anyone who is being trafficked,” said FBI Supervisory Special Agent Doug Hunt, who manages the San Francisco office’s anti-trafficking efforts, which will also include sting operations the agency has used before previous Super Bowls.

This year’s event in the San Francisco Bay Area, like past bowls and other large sporting events, is expected to be a magnet for trafficking in part because many thousands of men will pour into the region, according to experts.

Victims’ advocates and local law enforcement officials say the FBI’s efforts are laudable, and may help ensure the women and girls don’t return to their pimps. But they warn that victims are often too fearful to help prosecute their traffickers.

And they say efforts such as those by the FBI need to be handled with great care and patience, and need to be sustained.

“A lot of times they don’t see themselves as victims,” said Jennifer Madden, a local prosecutor who has worked with trafficked girls. “They don’t fully grasp how they’ve come into this, how they are being exploited, and they may not be amenable to services.”

Victims’ advocates and local law enforcement officials say the FBI’s efforts are laudable, and may help ensure the women and girls don’t return to their pimps. But they warn that victims are often too fearful to help prosecute their traffickers.

And they say efforts such as those by the FBI need to be handled with great care and patience, and need to be sustained.

“A lot of times they don’t see themselves as victims,” said Jennifer Madden, a local prosecutor who has worked with trafficked girls. “They don’t fully grasp how they’ve come into this, how they are being exploited, and they may not be amenable to services.”

The effort will supplement sting operations that the agency has used against traffickers before previous NFL championships.

The FBI and local law enforcement agencies announced the arrests in February of 360 sex buyers and 68 traffickers and the recovery of 30 juvenile victims in a six-month operation in anticipation of the 2015 Super Bowl.

The year before that, the FBI said authorities recovered 16 children between the ages of 13 and 17 and arrested more than 45 pimps and their associates in Super Bowl-related operations.

Those types of operations will continue this year, said Hunt of the FBI.