Category Archives: Human Trafficking

Putting an end to slavery

Guest blog post by Giselle Rodriguez, State Outreach Coordinator for the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking

Giselle speaking about human trafficking

A 15-year-old girl was on her way home from school in Orlando when the unthinkable happened. A married couple drove up and the husband jumped out and kidnapped her. For a month, the girl was abused and forced into prostitution. Luckily, she was found and was rescued from this nightmare she was forced to live. The married couple was arrested and pleaded guilty to sex trafficking charges, but not all stories end this way.

In the past, if a teenager was found to be involved in prostitution they may have been put into a juvenile detention program. But now, as of Jan. 1, 2013, the Safe Harbor Act allows the state to provide safety, medical treatment, therapy and shelter to these child victims of human trafficking.

It is estimated that 1.8 million children worldwide are forced into the commercial sex industry.  Many people wonder, how can this sort of thing happen in some of these countries? This type of thing could never happen in the U.S., right? But it is happening here. Even in Florida.

Since January 2010, there have been 1,266 cases in Florida of alleged human trafficking involving child sexual exploitation. Human trafficking also includes involuntary labor, servitude and debt bondage, and Florida has the third highest volume of calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

End modern-day slavery in Florida

January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Take the time to reflect and speak out against the issue of human trafficking. Many Florida anti-trafficking organizations will be hosting events that will help shed light on human trafficking.

It is important that we continue to educate people on the fact that slavery is still occurring in the U.S. The more we talk about this issue, the better chances we have to identify, rescue and restore these victims.

If you suspect any child is a victim of human trafficking, please call the Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-962-2873.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
— Nelson Mandela

Sex trafficked and their parents never knew

Guest post by Amy Turner, Trail Blazers Club Leader for Lee County 4-H Extension. The student organization recently organized an interactive human trafficking awareness exhibit at the recent conference organized by the International Committee on Human Rights in Southwest Florida in partnership with the South Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking. Kudos to these students for taking the lead and being proactive in their community.

 She missed the bus and a popular older boy offered her a ride home. They stop at his house on the way so he can pick up a book. He offers her to come inside and gets her a glass of soda. She wakes up groggy, on a bed, sore. The soda was drugged, and he and his friends sexually assaulted her. They have pictures and will show her parents if she doesn’t come back. She comes back. Her parents never knew.

His new girlfriend introduced him to a music producer. The producer sees a lot of promise in him, offers to cut him a demo tape for free. His parents check out the producer – he has a website and references. He goes to the studio, closes the door and is beat up by three large men. They force him into prostitution with the threat of being beat up again if he refuses.

 A new girl is in her class. Seems edgy, cool. They are friends, texting and hanging out together for weeks. Her dad cleans office buildings and offers her a job. Her parents meet the friend and her parents to try to check it out. Her parents reluctantly say ok and drop her off. She is drugged and driven out of town in a truck.

Trail Blazers Club Leader for Lee County 4-H Extension

The examples above are based on true stories. They were kids from good homes with caring families. Hearing stories like these made Lee County Extension 4-H want to get involved in human trafficking prevention awareness. Our students wanted to do something with a big impact that would make people understand that it can happen to anyone. They wanted to warn their friends.

Side view of human trafficking exhibit

So the students worked with Human Trafficking Awareness Partnerships Inc. Founder/Executive Director Nola Theiss to design an elaborate set called the T.I.P.S. exhibit (Trafficking Interactive Prevention Simulation). It had life-size pictures of buildings and school buses, true-story scenarios, and led Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking conference event attendees through the hallways of real human trafficking situations.  Visitors were given cards with various scenarios and armed with tips to avoid being “trafficked.” Mental health counselors were placed at the exit so every attendee that completes their walk through had the opportunity to discuss what they just experienced.

One of the biggest things for parents to remember is to talk to your kids. Let them know they can tell you anything. Some of the other tips on the attendees’ cards included:

  • Don’t eat or drink anything you did not see prepared.
  • Always make sure a trusted friend knows where you are.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, wait at least 24 hours.  Talk about it with someone you trust.
  • Use the Internet to research the background of opportunities that come your way, like music and modeling.
  • Don’t be afraid to say no to an adult who makes you feel uncomfortable.  Lie if you have to and warn others about him or her.

If you or someone you know may be the victim of human trafficking, please call the Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-962-2873.

Trail Blazers Club Leader for Lee County 4-H Extension

Protect your children from sex trafficking

Today was the Florida Children and Youth Cabinet Human Trafficking Summit. Some very scary, real stories were told and there were many discussions among law enforcement, organizations and survivors. You can follow the dialogue on Twitter at #Trafficking2012. The post below offers some tips for parents to keep their kids safe. 

Every teen gets in fights with their parents and feels like they are misunderstood. If they find someone who will shower them with gifts, listen to their problems, always be there for them, they will latch onto them. They don’t know or think they are in danger. They see the person as a friend. They don’t know they are entering a cycle of abuse that will force them to be victims of human trafficking.

Where is one place teens love to hang out? The mall. But malls are key locations for traffickers and gangs too. So how can you help your kids stay safe? Talk to them.

Build honest relationships with your children. If kid acting out, sit down and listen – what is going on? Don’t take their response personally. If parents can’t talk to the child, maybe an aunt or family friend can be their sounding board.

Be honest about your own experiences. By being real with them it will encourage them to talk to you and confide in you.

Human Trafficking Summit keynote speaker Tina Frunt, an advocate and survivor with Courtney’s House, shared a story today about her daughter: A “producer” wanted to “cut a track,” with her daughter and go to a studio (this means he wanted to make a tap of her singing/rapping a song). She told the guy her mom would want all the info – website, phone number, and his name to run against the sex offender list. Be sure your kids are prepared!

If you don’t have open, honest conversation with your kids, someone else will. You don’t want that to happen. Be there for your children – let them know you can talk to them about anything, and mean it.

Deplorable Predators

Today four men were charges with running a foster child prostitution ring. The following remarks were by DCF South Florida Regional Director Esther Jacobo at a press conference earlier today. 

It is deplorable that any human being would take advantage of children, especially children in foster care who have been through so much.

Today’s actions by law enforcement and the leadership of State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle are a strong and welcomed response to the enormous challenge the Department and our community partners such as Our Kids of Miami-Dade and Monroe face as front-line protectors of children here in Miami-Dade.

We at the Department of Children and families battle a harsh reality every single day. Across the Country, almost 300,000 youth are at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation. They are being exploited in our own communities. This is true not just of foster children. Youth outside the child welfare system are also at risk.

The battle against those who prey on the most vulnerable children in our state is taking on a new strategy thanks to several things:

  • Leadership and bold prosecutions of the real criminals, those people who would prey on our children and buy them for sex
  • Actions such as the ones taken today by Miami-Dade Police and Mrs Fernandez Rundle
  • On June 12 of this year, Governor Scott was in Miami and signed two significant bills into law:

House Bill 7049 which provides law enforcement with the ability to take these criminals off the street and away from our kids.

House Bill 99 which allows the Department to create safe harbors for these children, develop specialized treatments and give law enforcement the option help these children as true victims and focus on the real criminals.

  • Abuse Hotline changes that allow us to have these children enter the dependency system instead of the delinquency system.

The most important take away for today is that these are not just DCF’s Kids … these are all of our kids. The community has to help us. These children may not be easy to spot and Law Enforcement and Child Welfare professionals are already developing and participating in training.

This is not enough. We must put a stop to generations of children becoming prey for unscrupulous individuals. Professional predators that not only know what children are most vulnerable to their influence, but also understand limitations imposed on agencies by law.

As a community we must make it harder for them. I am hopeful that in the coming months as we work to implement new protections provided by law for our children, you will show this same interest you are showing here today.

I invite all of you to really understand the challenge, report on it and help us find solutions. If you know of someone who may be a victim of any kind of neglect or abuse, please call the Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-962-2873.

A safe harbor from the horrors on the street

Guest blog post by Kristi House Executive Director Trudy Novicki

Gov. Rick Scott with Kristi House Executive Director Trudy Novicki and Attorney General Pam Bondi in the medical exam room.

The room at Kristi House is alive with hope, beautifully decorated with happy colors. But the cheeriness can’t hide the colposcope on the counter.

This device is used to perform medical exams on children who have been sexually abused. Designed for evaluation of children ages 1 – 12, it captures possible damage to their bodies and magnifies their injuries from sexual assaults so the evidence can be used for forensics.

This medical examination room was one of many that Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and DCF officials visited today at the Kristi House to sign new laws toughening our Human Trafficking laws, HB 99 & HB 7049. Even though the rooms were empty, most of the visitors had tears in their eyes just thinking about the atrocities the patients went through before they arrived at this place of hope.

The theme was clear: These victims need and deserve respect, not prosecution.

At the event we heard stories of young girls, who had run away from home looking for a better life. They met a new “boyfriend” who provides for them and loves them. Trust is built. But these are not really boyfriends – they are their pimps. They are sold to the highest bidder. These women are called prostitutes by some, but they are really victims. They are children who are victims of sexual abuse.

There are 293,000 American children currently at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation.  They are being trafficked in our own communities. They are all around us and in many cases we cannot even tell who they are. Even when they are identified it is complicated and difficult to give them the help they need to free them from those individuals who would exploit them and obtain financial gain from that exploitation – their pimps are constantly watching and controlling them.

The bills signed today will make it easier for these children to get the care and help they need. It stresses that they are victims, not criminals. The Safe Harbor Act gives law enforcement the ability to put the girls into the dependency system instead of the delinquency system.  Law enforcement can now focus on the true criminals – those who sexually exploit these vulnerable minors.  The bill also allows DCF to treat and help the child victims of these criminals through our contracted providers, such as Kristi House. They will receive intensive services in “safe harbors.”

No child is a “throwaway” … that phrase is utterly vile… these children aren’t damaged, broken or a lost cause … these are children who have had situations happen to them, horrible things have happened to them … and it is up to us to be their champions.