January was National Human Trafficking Prevention Month, so I took a break from my blog to research and write a three-part series on Human Trafficking (HT) recently published in the Fernandina News Leader. I felt it important to reach the people of Northeast Florida, where I live, and also those who read my blog and beyond. I believe informing the public empowers individuals to recognize signs, take action, and advocate for policies that combat the injustice of HT.
I plan to post each part of the series over the next three days, and I would love to get your feedback on what you personally learned from the articles, so please leave a comment.
Next month, I plan to return to my happy place in Florida's sunshine and hit the trails for my next adventure, so stay tuned.
January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month.
As a new year begins, this month is a reminder to collectively heighten our awareness, education, and advocacy to combat this pervasive issue of modern-day bondage.
United States law defines human trafficking as the use of force, fraud, or coercion to compel a person into commercial sex acts or labor against their will and can take various forms.
In part one of this three-part series, I will look at the many elements, misconceptions, and statistics behind human trafficking to better understand how this exploitation affects the very fabric of our country and local communities.
Human trafficking is not a topic typically brought up at the dinner table or social gatherings. I’ve learned through my research that this issue is much more than the images portrayed in the movies, where our youth are swept away in a white van without ever being seen or heard from again. Actually, according to Re-threaded, a Jacksonville organization that helps to restore the lives of survivors, less than five percent of HT involves a kidnapping.
Despite it being uncomfortable for many of us, the statistics of this human rights violation are alarming and exist closer to home than many of us may realize. In 2022, the
National Human Trafficking Hotline ranked Florida number three in the nation, behind Texas and California. Duval County ranks number three in Florida, and Jacksonville ranks 48th among all cities in the US.
Per the Human Trafficking Courts, half of all human trafficking victims in Florida are minors, and the average age that a victim is first used for commercial sex is 12 to 14. Tragically, some victims are as young as nine years old. The site reconfirms that traffickers rarely kidnap victims off the street. Traffickers methods are more focused on psychological manipulation and false promises to lure the victim into exploitative situations, where the victim doesn’t realize what has happened to them until it's too late. This loss of control often puts the victim in debt to the trafficker, which makes it hard to break free.
These alarming statistics are driven by the fact that human trafficking is a lucrative criminal enterprise, and the financial incentives cause traffickers to adapt and find new ways to exploit individuals, making it challenging for authorities to keep up with traffickers evolving tactics.
According to the International Labor Organization, human trafficking generates $150 billion dollars annually. Of that total, $99 billion is from sexual exploitation, and $52 billion is from forced domestic work, agriculture, and other economic activities. In addition, HT is the 2nd most extensive criminal trade in the world after arms, with the U.S. accounting for almost 52 percent of global human trafficking trade. The business model of these enterprises fully understands that arms can only be sold once. In contrast, a human being can tragically be sold repeatedly, creating this billion-dollar business.
Human Trafficking Awareness Month encourages communities to become proactive in a collective effort to combat this problem that affects countless lives. It is not merely enough to condemn HT. It requires engaging in open conversation, dispelling myths, and equipping individuals with the knowledge to protect themselves and others.
Part two of this series looks at our local, county, and state law enforcement and other agencies to examine their vital role and efforts in combatting HT. Part three explores what happens when the survivor leaves the life of trafficking. I traveled to Villages of Hope in Jacksonville to see firsthand how founders Donna Fenchel and Carla Sweeney saw the need for a safe environment for survivors and took bold action to fill that need. In addition, I will examine the core belief behind the organization, Re-threaded, who believe secure, empowering employment is the best way to help survivors of human trafficking to restore their lives. Finally, and most importantly, how can the community help.
If you want to learn more, please visit these sites and join me in part two of the series: