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Human Trafficking Taints Florida

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.

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