International human trafficking awareness day was designated to be memorialized on January 11, 2012. It is a sad reality that we even need to have such a day but the numbers speak volumes:
- Around the world, as many as 2.5 million people are forced into the unpaid labor and sex trades at any given time.
- Shockingly, in the United States, the state of Florida is often ranked as either second or third state in terms of the number of victims of human trafficking.
Experts recognize that human trafficking crimes occur on the shadowy edges of daily existence. Effectively exposing this problem, allowing knowledge and awareness to shine a bright light on these very dark crimes is an important early step in our efforts to end human trafficking. As state attorney, I felt that we needed to bring together a cross section of the community along with community leaders, police, prosecutors and service providers to identify problems while proposing solutions and to tackle misconceptions which may inhibit our efforts to curb these crimes affecting so many young and promising lives. To accomplish this, I organized our January 9, 2012 community forum on human trafficking titled, “the faces of human trafficking: myths and realities.” After all, knowledge is the sharpest tool in the fight against human trafficking.
One of the important myths to be dispelled is a simplistic view of the victims of human trafficking. Many human rights organizations have focused largely on the trafficking of foreign nationals. Often these are women who are abducted or tricked into applying for foreign jobs only to be sold into brothels. Another portrait relates to issues of debt bondage, where men and women who are illegally smuggled into the United States are told they must work under modern day slave like conditions to pay off their debt.
However, the reality of the sex trafficking cases presented to my prosecutors is much more complex. They did not involve exploited foreign nationals but women and children from our own community. The cases were discovered in the course of unrelated criminal investigations rather than coming from a human trafficking tip or prostitution task force operation.
These local victims have had unique psychological needs. They often suffered from trauma bonding, also commonly referred to as the Stockholm syndrome or the Patty Hearst syndrome. The victims, especially the underage minors, often did not perceive their pimps as exploiters but as boyfriends and protectors.
Human trafficking is often an under reported and misidentified crime. To better identify its victims, I have created a human trafficking task force composed of experienced prosecutors and service providers with a wide spectrum of specializations. Our task force members are charged with reviewing arrest affidavits for potential misidentification of trafficking victims. For example, we have recently initiated a review of juvenile trespass arrests and juvenile pick up orders in our victim review process. Our task force members are available to work with state and local task forces, our federal partners and our local program service providers. Our January 9, 2012 community forum on human trafficking was the first of what I hope will be many successful dialogues on this important human trafficking in the future.