Friday, January 23, 2009

Sex Trafficking Summit draws 150 people
Thursday, January 22, 2009

By Monique Mattiace

STUART — About 150 people from agencies across the Treasure Coast gathered at the Treasure Coast Hospice Mayes Center in Stuart for a Sex Trafficking Summit hosted by the Soroptimist International of Stuart Thursday evening to raise awareness for the issue.

The group hopes a task force of some sort will form, said Margaret Richebourg, chair of the Soroptimist International of Stuart.

A 10 minute video of undercover footage of buying and selling young girls in the U.S. kicked off the meeting before the two guest speakers took the stage.

“All of you who reluctantly came here saying it doesn’t happen here, get over it,” said Nola Theiss, guest speaker, former mayor of Sanibel, and executive director of Human Trafficking Awareness Partnerships Inc.

Theiss started her comments with media reports on the arrest of a Port St. Lucie man for trying to swap children for sexual acts - proving that sex trafficking is happening in the area.

“People don’t know it’s around them until they look for it and know what to look for,” Theiss said. “My goal is to inform and desensitize the community so they can do something about it.”

Theiss gave countless accounts where law enforcement agencies have overlooked dozens of sex trafficking victims because they weren’t trained to look for the signs.

“Learning the red flags and recognizing them and demanding local law enforcement to get involved is what needs to be done,” she said.

Guest speaker Linda Smith, former congresswoman and founder of Shared Hope, started fighting sex trafficking after she took a trip to India and saw hundreds of caged girls who were sold to men for sex 40 times a night.

“The undercover videos I found in the U.S. shocked me more than anything I saw around the world,” Smith said.

Smith shared the story of two girls who were tricked into trafficking by the promise of a safe place to live, clothes, freedom, money and more.

One of the girls was taken from her grandmother after the trafficker followed her for months; he sold her for four years around the U.S., took her to truck stops, hotels and forced her to walk the streets for hours. She was arrested over 14 times by law enforcement and was never looked at as a victim, but instead was labeled as a prostitute.

The goal is to communicate with the community. To make law enforcement get trained on how to spot sex traffickers and the victims so the victims don’t get lost in the system, Smith said.

“If you knew a little girl today who was being raped, could you go to sleep tonight? So do something about it,” said Smith.

For more information, about joining a local task force to fight sex trafficking contact the Soroptimist International of Stuart at call (772) 288-9955.

Human Trafficking:

Human trafficking is modern day slavery - forced labor and sex in any form.

Traffickers use force, fraud or coercion to control their victims.

Florida has the second-highest incidence of human trafficking in the country.

The average age of entry into prostitution is 12 to 14.

Underage girls are the bulk of victims in commercial sex markets – pornography, stripping, escort services and prostitution.

Close to a million people a year are trafficked across borders.

About half of all missing children and runaways may be trafficked.

Human trafficking is a $9 billion to $17 billion international crime second to drug trafficking.

About 400 potential victims of minor sex trafficking has passed through the hands of various agencies.

1 comment:

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