We celebrate the strength and contributions of the American labor force each year on the first Monday in September – often with parades, backyard barbeques and sales on everything from mattresses to SUV’s. This is also a good time to reflect on those who are not free in their workplaces, who are literally enslaved, and who are often hidden in plain sight.
Americans and immigrants alike are trafficked in low wage, low skilled jobs throughout our country and community: on farms, factories, and construction sites; in salons, hotels and restaurants; and in homes as nannies and housekeepers. They are working as landscapers, in nursing homes, and even at Florida’s many tourist attractions. Women and children, in particular, can be both labor and sex trafficked.
Make no mistake: human trafficking is alive and well in Florida’s Big Bend. Since the beginning of the year, local DCF reports that at least 19 children were sex trafficked in Leon County. The Survive and Thrive Advocacy Center (STAC) has worked with over a dozen sex and labor trafficked victims in our area.
Florida and U.S. laws are comprehensive and tough – and criminalize a host of human trafficking-related activity. Traffickers commit many crimes in addition to “forced labor” or “human trafficking” offenses, including violent crimes like assault and sexual battery and other crimes such as money laundering, tax fraud, drug trafficking, labor and workplace violations, and grand theft.
The problem is that human trafficking is extremely hidden: most often, these crimes go undetected and victims remain victimized and enslaved. How can we tell if that waitress or dishwasher at our favorite restaurant is being forced to work? How do we know if the ER patient with pesticide exposure or a broken foot or the teenager outside the library who is begging or selling himself for sex is a trafficking victim?
This is why STAC works throughout the Big Bend to build awareness of human trafficking and to assist victims by helping them get the services they need. In fact, STAC has trained over 3,100 people throughout the area since December 2017, working with everyone from the staffs at county health departments to law enforcement and social services, to area high school and middle students, to local businesses and the faith community. We all need to join in to understand how to recognize human trafficking, help victims, and bring traffickers to justice.
If you suspect someone is being trafficking and is in danger, call 911. The National Human Trafficking Hotline number is 888-3737-888. You can also call STAC at 850-597-2080 or go to www.surviveandthriveadvocay.org for more information.
Robin Hassler Thompson is the Executive Director of STAC and you can reach her at email@example.com.