Breakout Birmingham is insensitive towards victims of human trafficking

Elizabeth Sturgeon, Columnist

It’s very common for me to scroll through Instagram and see a trendy group of teenagers who survived a kidnapping or a volcanic explosion at Breakout Birmingham, where small groups are challenged to find their way out of a real life situation in under an hour.

The cost is beyond the $24 tickets; teenagers are numbing themselves to the dynamic of escape.breakout_slider

Everyone who completes a simulated adventure at Breakout Birmingham is sure to post a picture on social media. This escape game chain locks a group of eight people in a room and challenges participants to decipher clues and unlock codes in order to escape. It’s a thrill plus a photo-op at the end.

There’s something disturbing about rich kids paying to be kidnapped while human trafficking is a $32 billion industry. How has Breakout become a Birmingham staple while the I-20 hotspot between Birmingham and Atlanta is the largest center for human trafficking in the United States? While I shelled out $24 for a ticket this summer, the WellHouse, a Birmingham women’s shelter for trafficking victims, struggle to have enough beds and to keep victims safe under Alabama law.

Americans forget that slavery still exists in the United States, yet it is the fastest-growing criminal industry. About 42 percent of girls in the trafficking industry are younger than 18 at entry – almost the same age group that is most excited about Breakout Birmingham.

I have been to Breakout, and I admit that cracking the last code with 44 seconds left was an amazing rush. The Breakout business is inside our heads. It’s a perfectly set up corporation, but many refuse to look past the photo-ops, T-shirts and the pure thrill of escaping. Escape is some romantic, adrenaline-pumped idea that modern Americans have learned to cherish. Horror movies with recycled plotlines make millions of dollars, murderous video games grow more graphic by each release date and now teenagers pay to see what abduction is like.

Kids love adrenaline, but the wound-up energy boost under pressure is meant for survival. It seems as if Americans are so safe that they crave just a taste of danger. However, the danger we seek is becoming progressively darker, moving beyond just adventure.

I’m not telling everyone in Birmingham to avoid life on the edge, but we must be aware of how numb we are to horror. Although I went into the game loathing the rip-off, with some crafty technology and exciting teamwork, it was easy for me to forget that dangerous situations actually exist.

Without knowing that slavery still exists in the United States, young adults are letting insensitive fun take control. The realization that catchy photo-ops and free stickers draw us can prevent places like Breakout Birmingham from turning into corporate schemes.

Whether you jump on the escape bandwagon or invest your $24 into your own scavenger hunt business, at least know that there are people who may not be so lucky as to break out of danger in a perfectly guided hour-long experience.


  1. Calvin says:

    So basically if I go to a water park I’m aiding in the clean water crisis? The position of this article is absurd. Are football games bad because we use animal leather to make the football? Escape games are some of the most innocent, clean fun one can have with friends these days and your attributing it to human trafficking?

    Bringing about awareness of the issue is something I’m always 100% in support of but I think it’s extremely unfair to drag a local business through the mud in tow.

    Maybe write an article about a actual real life incident of human trafficking and issue info@breakoutbham an apology, I can assure you the owners are not “insensitive towards victims of human trafficking” as your title suggests.

  2. Cathy says:

    Calvin – I do not think the aim of the article was just one local business. It was dealing with the callousness of looking at slavery and traps in such a “gamey” way. If a water park were providing drinking water, yeah, it would be an issue with clean water. Not sure about the animal leather – ask a vegan. Birmingham does have a major human trafficking problem – hopefully, someone will continue to write about the human trafficking issue as well. This piece was an editorial, FYI – not a true journalistic endeavor. The writer did say that the local business venue was an escape, but is pointing out the dangers of too much escape in our world.

  3. MR says:

    Major issue with this article – is Breakout is not the only “escape game” in Birmingham. Locked In runs the exact same operation, but they get to avoid having their name slandered here. Why? Being labeled “Insensitive towards victims of human trafficking” is a massive accusation to put on a company based on nothing more than a stretch of logic.

    Is the author trying to raise awareness of human trafficking in the Birmingham area? Yes, and that’s a noble goal. However, I really wish she could have done it without potentially damaging the reputation of innocent people running a fun business.

    • ES says:

      Cathy- Locked In has three games revolving around scientific and historical investigations while Breakout Birmingham deals with putting people in simulated danger.

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