From the Tallahassee Democrat:
The Big Bend Coalition Against Human Trafficking and the Tallahassee Police Department unveiled a new squad car vehicle wrap Thursday designed to raise awareness and combat human trafficking.
U.S. Attorney Christopher Canova joined with TPD Chief Michael DeLeo and other members of the coalition to discuss the issue and urge citizens to contact authorities if they suspect someone is a victim of human trafficking. The event coincided with National Human Trafficking Awareness Day.
“We have these predators in our midst,” said Canova, who heads up the coalition. “And they’re preying on the most vulnerable and weak in our society — people that have drug addictions, kids that have run away from home, even relatives that are addicted to drugs selling out their children and brothers and sisters to settle a drug debt. So it is a problem. And we need the public’s awareness to look for things that just don’t look right.”
Canova urged victims of human trafficking or people who see possible victims of human trafficking to call 911 or the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888.
“If there’s somebody that seems to be very submissive, doesn’t have any identification, doesn’t have any money, doesn’t speak for themselves, being bossed around by somebody else or if it just doesn’t look right, please call law enforcement,” he said. “Because you might save somebody’s life.”
He said the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida has prosecuted about 30 defendants in the past couple of years. Nationwide, the U.S. Department of Justice prosecuted more than 500 defendants in 2016.
Canova said human trafficking victims are often very young girls who are exploited for commercial sex trafficking. However, he said human trafficking comes in many forms. Victims can range from panhandlers to very young children to adult men who are labor trafficked, said Canova and Robin Hassler Thompson, executive director of the Survive & Thrive Advocacy Center, or STAC.
Thompson said STAC works with everyone from emergency room doctors and nurses to homeless shelter workers to help them recognize and help victims of human trafficking.
“So this awareness is one of the most vital things that can happen here in our community,” she said. “It is so important that people understand that trafficking happens right here in Leon County, in Gadsden County and all the areas around us.”
The vehicle wrap will remain on the hood of a TPD vehicle used for downtown patrol through January, which is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month.
Read the original article from The Tallahassee Democrat
Photos: Jeff Burlew/Democrat