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Stop modern day slavery: Be part of the solution
August 5, 2020

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As frontline workers in the fight against human trafficking, the Cape Coral Police Department answered a global call to action Thursday.

July 30 was World Day Against Trafficking in Persons and the 2020 theme urged first responders -- "the people who work in different sectors -- identifying, supporting, counselling and seeking justice for victims of trafficking, and challenging the impunity of the traffickers," to join together to stop modern day slavery.

The CCPD joined those who called on "governments worldwide to take coordinated and consistent measures to defeat human trafficking in all forms and to help strengthen security worldwide."

As agencies throughout Lee County -- from police departments to the Sheriff's Office, from the School District to area offices of the Florida Department of Children and Families, from aid agencies like ACT to organizations like ZONTA -- know, the fight, of course, begins at home.

And it begins with all of us.

The ugly truth is, as a community we are not only not immune, but within a state where the rate of reported trafficking cases places us third in the nation behind California and Texas.

There were 11,500 cases of reported human trafficking in the U.S. last year with victims in all 50 states. Florida had 896 cases, some with multiple victims.

Think it can not happen here?

A Lehigh man was arrested earlier this year and charged with human trafficking after a 14-year-old girl reported he had sex with her multiple times and also arranged for her to have sex with other men "for profit." There were other alleged victims. The man faces more than a dozen related charges and awaits trial.

Nationwide, the majority of such cases, by far, involve female victims of sex trafficking -- about a third of them children -- but human trafficking is not limited as to gender nor is it limited to forced or coerced sexual exploitation.

Forced labor, including fraudulent or abusive practices such as those that require workers to perform duties to pay off debt, is another form of human trafficking.

What can we do?

Agencies and organizations that deal with human trafficking ask that we all be aware that the crime can exist anywhere, including the house next door or the business down the street.

To that end, the National Human Trafficking Hotline has posted a number of trafficking myth busters at humantraffickinghotline.org in hope of spreading awareness.

The most pervasive myth, according to its "Myths and Facts" post, is that trafficking is always a violent crime such as a kidnapping.

It is not.

"In reality, most human traffickers use psychological means such as tricking, defrauding, manipulating or threatening victims into providing commercial sex or exploitive labor," the agency states.

That's why those who are most vulnerable are at the greatest risk of being victimized -- children who have been abused or neglected; endangered runaways, who run a 1-in-6 chance of being exploited; and those with substance abuse or related issues.

Agencies ask, too, that we all be aware of the signs that someone may be a victim.

Red flags include odd living or workplace conditions, poor physical or mental health coupled with signs of addiction or abuse and a lack of control over themselves or their own money or possessions.

For more information, we suggest humantrafficking hotline.org/ or myflfamilies.com/service-programs/human-trafficking/.

If you are a victim of human trafficking or suspect an adult is a victim, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-3737-888 or visit their website. Those who suspect a child is a victim should call the Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE.

Victims may also reach out locally to ACT, which includes specific services among those offered to all victims of domestic and sexual violence.

The not-for-profit has partnered with other agencies and developed a services network which also provides referrals. In addition, ACT provides "clinical therapeutic treatment, counseling, legal services and comprehensive case management and advocacy for adult victims of human trafficking" as well as a "referral to collaborative partners for victims needing forensic interviews" and "shelter for adult victims and any children they may have and support services which includes comprehensive residential case management for victims of human trafficking," their website states.

ACT's 24-hour helpline for assistance is 239-939-3112.

Their information line is 239-939-2553.

Together, we can make a difference and stop modern day slavery.

#EndHumanTrafficking #HumanTrafficking

-- Neighbor editorial

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