A $150 billion industry with more than 40 million global victims and 25 percent of these victims are children. Those statistics are all connected to sex trafficking.
On Thursday, people from across the country came together in Southwest Florida to tackle the growing issue.
“Our own children are being trafficked and are being used in this way,” said Dr. Amanda Evans, assistant professor of the Dept. of Social Work at Florida Gulf Coast University.
Evans said we often do not recognize human trafficking victims because they are not who we expect them to be. The notion that human trafficking victims only come from other countries is not valid.
Potential victims can become targets through social media, clubs, in their neighborhood and at school. The human trafficking symposium aimed at the industry and educating those who fight it.
“I was sexually abused,” said Christy Ivie, founder and president of Christy’s Cause. “Physically abused and emotionally abused. Although I was never trafficked, I do know what it feels like to be used.”
That is why Ivie said we need to be part of the solution by staying alert online and reporting suspicious ads or videos. But, it is not all on the web.
“After the abduction of my brother here in south Florida in 1981,” said Callahan Walsh, child advocate for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, “my parents were quick to realize there was no national, no local mechanism to report missing children and no coordinated effort to help look for Adam.”
Keynote speaker Walsh, who is the son of John Walsh from America’s Most Wanted, explained that is one reason his father created the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The keynote speaker said it is important to report anything suspicious immediately.
Walsh advised people that the public can be law enforcement most important tool, which is why it is paramount that they speak up. While recognizing victims can be difficult, law enforcement and health care professionals went through training to better learn to spot victims and care for them.
These can include a person who looks malnourished, avoids eye contact and even gives scripted responses when talking.
“Law enforcement might come and say, ‘the 16-year-old needs mental health services,’ or they might have a complicated immigration case,” Evan said. “Or a case where Department of Children and Families needs to be involved.”