It's a criminal enterprise affecting an estimated 27 million people internationally and no community is immune. That's why some people are hoping to raise awareness about modern slavery and human trafficking here in North Central Florida.
Human trafficking for sex or labor is more prevalent now than ever before. With that in mind, hundreds of red balloons were inflated one by one today at the University of Florida, to illustrate an alarming statistic.
Richard Tovar said, "Every 15 seconds a woman or a child get's trafficked into the sex industry." Tovar and three others started the organization FIGHT (Fighting Injustice and Global Human Trafficking) to help stop the sale of women and children into a life of prostitution.
Tovar said, "The problem is that today now because of our appetite for sex, because of the amount of sex that we're buying women and children have to be trafficked into the sex industry to meet the needs of the buyer."
Tovar wants people to realize their own impact on human trafficking and to take action. He said, "We're gonna see if we can just decrease the amount of sex that's being sold, there's going to be less women and children trafficked into the industry."
Human trafficking is not just an international problem. Sergeant Terry Crews of the Alachua County Sheriff's Office said they've handled cases right here in North Central Florida where people have been forced to work on farms with little to no care or pay.
Crews said, "Common areas around our city that are target areas are food service, hotel-motel industry, really anywhere where you need a lot of labor that you know would typically be low paying type labor."
UF law professor Berta Hernandez-Truyol said a demand for cheap labor drives exploitation and the fact that many modern slaves are illegal immigrants perpetuates the problem. She said, "They are themselves not prone to want to go out and get help because of the consequences to themselves, so it's almost circular."
Detecting and ending labor and sex slavery requires a concentrated effort by law enforcement internationally and domestically. But those in the community can do something to help, starting with awareness.
Hernandez-Truyol said, "There are many layers that we need to address in order to combat the whole, but a layer at a time I think is much better than inaction.
For more information on human trafficking and how you can abolish modern slavery visit www.fightsextrafficking.org.
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