Hillsborough recognizes January as slavery and national human trafficking awareness month

01/08/14 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: Human Trafficking, sex trafficking, Hillsborough County Commission


Dottie Groover-Skipper, head of the Community Campaign Against Human Trafficking, thanked county commissioners for recognizing the human trafficking problem in the Tampa Bay area.

photo by Janelle Irwin

Human trafficking in the Tampa Bay area is getting more and more attention as people take notice. During a Hillsborough County Commission meeting Wednesday Commissioner Sandra Murman issued a proclamation recognizing January as Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness Month.

“Human trafficking affects as many as 27-million people worldwide including an estimated 2-million children who are trafficked for child labor and sexual exploitation. Florida is ranked as the third highest destination for human traffickers in the country with Tampa Bay serving as the hub.”

Several groups across the Bay area are working to raise awareness for human and sex trafficking, especially when it involves children. The Junior League of Tampa is working with a company called Ad2 on a campaign called Abolish.

The company is creating a series of advertisements, billboards and logos that will highlight the prevalence of human trafficking in the Tampa Bay area. Mary Ellen Collins does marketing for the Junior League.

“There’s over 100 different organizations that are working on this issue right now, but the issue is the fragmentation and the messaging. Everybody has been doing their own work, but there hasn’t been a unified umbrella campaign and that’s really what this is serving as. We feel like this is filling the void in the community to help get people up to speed on the fact that it’s happening.”

Anti-human trafficking advocates are hoping the Abolish movement will gain traction across the state and maybe even nationally. Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe agreed.

“When you shine a light on germs and bacteria, you can do away with a lot of bad things. So, we’re going to shine a light on this.”

January is also Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness month in Florida. Attorney General Pam Bondi is partnering with the state Department of Transportation to display posters at rest areas encouraging people to report incidents. In a press release today Bondi said, “Raising awareness about the prevalence of human trafficking is key to combating this horrific crime.” Hillsborough County Commissioner Murman, who has been working on issues surrounding human trafficking, said the advocacy work is great, but there’s still more to be done before the problem can be abolished as the campaign calls for.

“I think the real work is in the investigation and the prosecution and that is going to be something that I’m going to be working very hard on in the coming months with our Sheriff and our City of Tampa Police Department to see if we can all sit down and come to some agreement. I think it takes dollars. I know that it would probably take a minimum of five deputies.”

However, Detective James McBride who heads the Tampa Bay area task force against human trafficking said it helps investigators to have strong collaboration with advocacy groups.

“We do the rescue part and you all are the major part of the restoring these victims back to where they need to be in order to assist us with our investigations.”

The Community Campaign Against Human Trafficking, headed by Dottie Groover-Skipper, kicked off the idea of a united advocacy plan. So far the group has partnered with groups to help train people on how to spot and address suspected human trafficking.

“They are educating mall security because that is one place where traffickers really are going after our children. Jen and her committee have been working tirelessly to educate mall security. We’ve educated the school district. The school district is on board, of course, with the PSA that will be shown and also, they’ve really stepped up educating their staff, faculty and students on this issue.”

The movement's website launched Wednesday with information about the campaign. Organizers will officially kick off the new effort during a rally Saturday at Gaslight Square Park in downtown Tampa at 4 p.m. And WEDU has a documentary called Too Close to Home available on their website.

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