It was difficult for me to adjust back into life at Rollins during the first few days back last week. How could I go back to my daily routine? For me, even the most basic day-to-day activities provide a feeling of guilt. I get uneasy feelings — dark, lurking feelings one would experience knowing something terrible is happening and there is no way to stop it. I know that somewhere, probably not very far from me, there is a young girl who had her innocence stolen from her.
From April 8 to 10, a group of students and I had the amazing opportunity to travel to the Tampa area in order to learn more about this growing problem that threatens our central Florida community. We explored the human trafficking industry, which incorporates domestic labor with personal and commercial sex. Our learning mostly revolved around the sex side, focusing on young girls enslaved in Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST).This problem may not seem prevalent in our lives but to the slaves of a global, $32 billion (yes, I said billion) industry collecting $9 billion in annual revenue, it is far too real.
Our country has allowed an industry so horrid and unmerciful to grow and become the second-largest profiting crime industry. According to human trafficking expert and our community partner, June Wallace, leaders of organized crime have begun to find it more profitable to abduct and sell America’s own women because, “when a criminal sells drugs the drugs are gone; humans can be sold again and again.”
And yet, sadly, “women” is not even the correct term to describe these victims. Typically starting at ages 12 to 14, but sometimes as soon as seven, traffickers prey on girls who are vulnerable, usually having family problems.
How come the girls cannot leave after they realize what is happening; they choose this life, right? Pat Gerard, mayor of Largo, said it best. “A minor is never a prostitute, they are a victim,” he said. Victims of DMST are threatened, brutally raped, beaten daily and most of the time, forcibly made to become addicted to drugs like meth and crack-cocaine in order to create a dependency on their pimp. They are forced to endure horrors none of us will ever even know. Middle school-aged girls “service” as many as 50 men (or “Johns”) a night to make their required quota or they are severely punished.
Florida has the third-highest human trafficking problem in the country. Brothels, massage parlors, prostitution rings, all exist right under our noses and are controlled by highly secure human trafficking groups.
It does not help that our government hardly educates basic law enforcement on this issue. When asked about human trafficking, Orange County Officer Scott Bearns showed no substantial knowledge of this growing industry in our community. In fact, he even referred to these girls as “prostitutas,” shouting at them in derogatory Latin American accents as we drove around the neighborhoods of Orange Blossom Trail. It seemed to me that for him, there was no more depth to these girls than how much they charge a “John” for a good time.
We must make awareness our first priority; the more our community knows, the more we can help.
Please, take the next step in educating yourself about human trafficking.