The big game in Tampa Bay is just three days away. The stadium’s decked out and the community’s ready to play ball. But there’s a darker side to the game, operating in the shadows.
“This is a challenging time for law enforcement, especially in the fight against human trafficking,” said Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody.
Big events tend to attract traffickers, putting police, lawmakers, prosecutors and victims on the offensive and launching new initiatives to fight the scourge of human trafficking.
Southwest Florida is a key player.
“Human traffickers have no regard for human life,” said Rep. Jackie Toledo (R-Tampa).
In the shadows of Raymond James Stadium, site of Super Bowl LV, lawmakers and prosecutors unveil their new play to stop human trafficking because it isn’t just fans flocking to Tampa for the big game, but criminals looking to score.
“I filed House Bill 523,” Toledo said.
The bill will help human trafficking survivors across the state move on with their lives by expunging their criminal records and removing deposition requirements. Survivor and advocate Kim Squires knows the importance of both.
“It is vital that we can have our records expunged because that keeps us from stable housing, that keeps us from employment. And so what that does is that causes us to revictimize, be re-exploited,” Squires said.
“Human trafficking is modern-day slavery,” said State Attorney Amira Fox. She has prosecuted human trafficking cases for years in Southwest Florida. She also launched HT Counts (Human Trafficking Counts). The pilot project crunches the numbers on crimes, arrests, the victims and where they’re from.
“We see a lot of runaways; we see the services needed are for drug addiction,” Fox said.
She said that right now, Heroin is one of the prevalent drugs human traffickers use to get control of their victims. With HT Counts, solid data justifies new funding and programs to jail traffickers and help victims break free and build new lives, an issue that’s amplified nowadays.
“[The pandemic] has had an impact not only on human trafficking types of cases, but any case where any kind of trauma has been done to a victim,” Fox said.
“It’s heartbreaking to watch a survivor as they have to go through the system because, as we all know, to convict a defendant of something the victim has to testify, and it’s very difficult for someone who has been traumatized.”
Florida ranks third in the nation in the nation in the number of calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
It’s an ugly distinction, but it also means we’re getting better at spotting human trafficking, rescuing victims and prosecuting anyone involved.
If you believe you may have information about a trafficking situation or are a victim:
Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free hotline at 1-888-373-7888: Anti-Trafficking Hotline Advocates are available 24/7 to take reports of potential human trafficking.
Text the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 233733. Message and data rates may apply.
Chat the National Human Trafficking Hotline via www.humantraffickinghotline.org/chat
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE HOTLINE
FLORIDA ABUSE HOTLINE