Every 30 seconds a human being is sold, bought or forced into slavery.
That, according to Pasco County Circuit Court Judge Lynn Tepper, is reason for alarm.
It is estimated there are 27 million human trafficking victims worldwide with about 2.5 million living in plain sight in the United States alone. Tepper said an estimated 300,000 people are forced into prostitution yearly in America. This number, however, is likely low, she said.
“It’s guesstimated, it’s doubled,” Tepper said.
Human trafficking is a crime that involves the commercial use and exploitation of people who are forced into the sex trade or other forms of servitude for the gain of another. The crime can involve “forced prostitution and pornography, involuntary labor, servitude and debt bondage,” according to the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking.
“It’s a human dignity issue,” said Pasco County Sheriff’s Office Cpl. Alan Wilkett. “This is the type of issue that should make every American’s blood boil.”
Human trafficking victims, or modern-day slaves as they are sometimes called, can be illegal immigrants. It’s also quite common for victims to be American citizens, often runaways.
Finding victims and prosecuting their traffickers is a big priority for law enforcement agencies from Pasco County on up to federal agencies such as the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Law enforcement, however, needs help to crack down on this crime that is considered the second largest in the world behind drug trafficking, Wilkett said.
There are things residents can do to help.
“We’re in a very strong awareness campaign right now,” Wilkett said.
Residents can help by:
- Educating themselves
- Reporting suspected cases
- Providing assistance for victims
Signs To Watch Out For
Wilkett said human trafficking victims are often difficult to spot, but residents can look for a variety of warning signs. Those signs, according to the FBI, include:
- Inability to speak English
- Evidence of physical abuse
- A person who has been deprived of medical care, sleep, food or water
- Residences that have a large number of occupants
- A person who is not often seen outside of a residence
- A person who is not allowed to socialize
- A person who is always escorted when they leave a residence
- A residence that has outside locks on doors and windows to prevent someone from getting out
Who To Call
Residents who believe they may have encountered a case of human trafficking can report suspicions to:
- The Clearwater Tampa Bay Area Task Force on Human Trafficking’s tip line at 727-562-4917.
- The national human trafficking tip line at 1-888-428-7581.
Reporting suspicions – even if they end up being false – is important, Wilkett said. It’s better to err on the side of caution than let a victim slip through the cracks, he added.
Getting More Involved
Residents who want to take a more active role in the fight against trafficking have several options for doing so. One of the best ways, Wilkett said, is for residents to become more informed. He is available to give presentations about trafficking to groups. To find out more, call 727-834-3376.
More information on getting involved is also available on the Clearwater task force’s website at catfht.org.
The Demi & Ashton Foundation also provides resources for individuals who wish to take a more proactive stances against trafficking. The nonprofit foundation was created by Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher to raise awareness about trafficking. http://demiandashton.org/