Slavery is an evil often manifested in the practices of bonded labor, forced labor or human trafficking. Although forced labor was abolished in the United States of America nearly one hundred and fifty years ago, slavery has become more prevalent today than at any time in human history. Some estimates indicate that nearly 27 million people in 161 countries today are living in slavery.
On Thursday March 20th, 2014, the members of a mission group originating in Joppa, Missouri stood on various intersections along South Dale Mabry between Gandy Boulevard and InterBay. These individuals wore T-shirts with red Xs and held up signs to alert passing motorists that “Slavery still exists" and advocate their call to "End IT!”
One of the young men in the group named Garrett said that they had arrived in Tampa on Saturday March 15th and that they would return to Joppa on Saturday the 22nd. The mission group was comprised of students from Missouri Southern State University, Ozark Christian College, Crowder Community College, Pittsburg State University, Neosho Community College and North East Oklahoma.
The trip to Tampa represents Garrett's first time to participate in helping to raise awareness to the trafficking issue. He first became interested two years ago when his mother and sister returned from a mission trip to Cambodia where they saw first hand the devastating effects of human trafficking. Garrett learned more about trafficking from Rapha House, an international mission based in Joppa, that works to end slavery and trafficking worldwide.
The heralds from Joppa handed out pamphlets entitled “BE IN IT TO END IT” to further explain the message of the national organization they were representing.
We want every man, woman and child to know that there are 27 million men, women and children, just like them, living in the shadows, working as slaves in 161 countries; including their own. We can be the generation to END IT. We are here to shine a light on slavery. No more bondage. No more sex trafficking. No more child laborers. No more, starting now.”
More information about this national movement can be found at ENDITMOVEMENT.COM
One of the advocates indicated that their group had chosen Tampa Bay because:
- “Florida is one of the highest destination states for women and children trafficked into the United States. In the past five years, law enforcement and social service providers have identified multiple cases of human trafficking in the Clearwater, Pinellas County and the greater Tampa Bay area.”
- “Labor trafficking is the most prevalent type occurring in Florida with victims showing up in the agricultural, tourism and hospitality industries. The domestic sex trafficking of minors is the second most prevalent type and yet the most under reported and under prosecuted human trafficking offense in Florida.”
In a follow up with Garrett upon his return to Joppa, he indicated, "we were glad to be home, we had such a good time and God moved in huge and amazing ways, but we were all glad to be home."
Garrett also said that he will continue to be an advocate for trafficking awareness, "I plan to continue to be very vocal about the reality of trafficking not just being a problem anymore, but it is truly a problem here in the USA too, and Americans are responsible for that. I recently spoke to an individual in Tampa who refused to believe that Americans are doing this type of thing to other Americans on American soil. He ignorantly pinned the crime solely on Bosnians living in America. This kind of ignorance is what we are trying so hard to fight and when people refuse to believe that there is a problem here, it only makes the problem worse."
The relevant importance of awareness efforts by such groups can be seen in recent news articles. Less than two months ago, the Tampa Bay Times article “Man convicted of human trafficking gets 34 years” documented events surrounding the arrest of a Lutz, FL man who was using “force, fraud and coercion” to lure young women into a prostitution ring he was operating from his home.
Fortunately for community residents there is a growing awareness of human trafficking in Tampa, Hillsborough County and the State of Florida. In addition to recent strengthening of legislation for a more effective prosecution of trafficking, there are at least a half dozen local NGO non-profit organizations trying to make an impact in the lives of persons who are at risk or are currently in bondage related to human trafficking.
One such organization is The HeartDance Foundation under the direction of Dottie Grover- Skipper. Dottie says that HeartDance’s mission is “to provide hope and help to hurting women in Tampa Bay” by, “helping women and children reclaim HOPE and human spirit by shining the love of Christ, especially in the darkest of places in our city.”
HeartDance's web-site provides the following guidance regarding possible signs that someone may be the victim of human trafficking:
What Does Human Trafficking Look Like?
Victims of human trafficking may look like many of the people you see every day. Look for the following clues:
- Evidence of being controlled by another person
- Evidence of inability to move or leave their job
- Bruises or other signs of physical abuse
- Fear or depression
- Not speaking on their own behalf and/or non-English speaking
- No passport or other forms of identification
Another local organization is Bridging Freedom whose mission is “to combat minor sex-trafficking by bringing restoration to those rescued and victim prevention to those we reach with our message. We educate the community and work with partnering organizations to increase awareness about this horrendous issue.”
The Bridging Freedom website provides an extensive list of news stories from the Tampa Bay area related to human trafficking stories that hit close to home.
Other trafficking awareness organizations include: