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Congresswoman Donna Shalala Discusses Human Trafficking Ahead Of The Super Bowl

Super Bowl sex trafficking awareness campaign signs at the Metromover Knight Center Station Platform, 100 SE Second St. in Miami.
Jose A. Iglesias
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Hundreds of thousands of visitors are expected to come to Miami-Dade County in February for the 2020 Super Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. Federal officials, nonprofits and law enforcement prepare for an expected increase in human trafficking during these large-scale events.

Miami-Dade County in partnership with the Women’s Fund is increasing awareness about the issue through a media campaign including billboards throughout the region.

Last week, Congresswoman Donna Shalala (D-Miami) led a subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill to discuss the issue of human trafficking and heard from experts on how the county is preparing for the big event. WLRN’s Luis Hernandez spoke with her about the hearing. They also discussed the articles of impeachment facing President Trump; the congressional hearings continue this Wednesday.

WLRN: How big of an issue is human trafficking in South Florida?

SHALALA: Well, Florida itself ranks in the top five and South Florida's number one in Florida in terms of human trafficking. We had a hearing at the Rules Committee and Kathy Fernandez Rundle, our state attorney for Miami-Dade, testified. And one of the reasons that she got interested in the issue earlier in 2012, she said, was when she saw those statistics. So she has led our center, which combines the police and health services and housing services, as well as her prosecution team for Miami-Dade. And, of course, with the Super Bowl coming up, everybody knows that there should be heightened awareness of human trafficking. The Women's Fund in Miami-Dade, as well as the Super Bowl itself and the Super Bowl committee have all come together. And there are billboards and lots of information to make people aware and very conscious and educate them, so that if they see something happening, they can report it.

U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala at a Miami Beach town hall in March.
Credit Jose A. Iglesias / Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald
The Florida Channel
U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala at a Miami Beach town hall in March.

I wondered from your conversations with state officials, do you believe that there are enough protections in place in South Florida to help the victims of sex trafficking? 

I think that we have one of the best models in the country to protect victims and to help them once they're identified, and to prosecute the people that would traffic them. But we don't have enough services, and that's a serious resource problem. And what I mean by services, are mental health services, housing, job opportunities and legal services. 

And to what extent are law enforcement agencies working together, targeting the johns or the pimps and not just going after the sex workers? 

Well, we're actually at another level of sophistication. And these are syndicates. These are organizations. So it's not a matter of just targeting the johns that would use one of these victims. It's also the organizations that kidnap them or entice them into going into prostitution. So what you want to do, a lot of this is organized crime and you want to get at the organization and put them away for years. 

Obviously, the big news are the impeachment hearings the past several weeks. The House recently filed two articles of impeachment against the president. There's set to be a vote this week in the House Rules Committee on impeachment. Have you already decided how you're going to vote on this?

Yes, I will vote for impeachment. The president clearly has abused his power. He's obstructed Congress. And he tried to basically bribe Ukraine into investigating one of his opponents. He's interfering in the 2020 election. And it's a clear violation of his oath of office.

Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Chris Remington knew he wanted to work in public radio beginning in middle school, as WHYY played in his car rides to and from school in New Jersey. He’s freelanced for All Things Considered and was a desk associate for CBS Radio News in New York City. Most recently, he was producing for Capital Public Radio’s Insight booking guests, conducting research and leading special projects at Sacramento’s NPR affiliate.