According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, Florida is third in the number of calls to the national human trafficking hotline.
The FMC Foundation of Caring and WUSF Public Media gathered a panel of experts to discuss the issue of human trafficking in Florida. This week on Florida Matters, we take a look at the scope of the problem. This is a preview of the discussion with Attorney General Pam Bondi, Dr. Maulik Trivedi of Florida Medical Clinic’s Behavioral Health division in Wesley Chapel and human trafficking survivor Connie Rose.
PAM BONDI: These kids are rarely taken into public, that’s why we’re working with the truckers, convenience stores we’re working with because often that’s the only time they’re let out of a car…to go to the restroom at a convenience store. I met a victim of human trafficking from New York, and what she does now – she’s a survivor – she goes into lower end motels and puts bars of soap in every bathroom with a number to call. Isn’t that neat? So if a victim goes into a restroom, there’s some hope.
CARSON COOPER: Now, I don’t sense that students in schools would be victims. I just imagine victims of human trafficking would not be attending school, but are teachers involved somehow in this battle? Should teachers be aware of the problem and how to go about detecting it?
BONDI: Well, certainly, and I’ll let the doctor – we have a physician here sitting with us – but certainly, …I’ve met victims all over -- actually I can say the world now, from being in Mexico City – but victims all over the country who have told me that they would live a normal life, normal meaning that they would go home at night to a two-story house, yet they would crawl out their window and be trafficked in the middle of the night. So certainly I think teachers need to look at signs of some being withdrawn, not making eye contact, slowing down in school, changes in their demeanor and their attitude, isolation; not being with their friends anymore. We’re really broadening what we’re talking about. We’re talking about a lot of issues here. Right in Tampa Bay, we made a huge case, and these women were truly captive, living in middle-upper class homes as captives and that’s where they were being trafficked. Right out of the homes, in a neighborhood, with people driving down the street every day and not reporting it.
COOPER: Dr. Trivedi?
MAULIK TRIVEDI: It’s an issue that pervades all levels of society. What happens in schools, particularly with teachers, they have the golden opportunity to capture and get a snapshot of this child. They see the child every day, they’re intimately familiar with their emotional state on a day-to-day basis, and when they recognize that change or when they see certain signs that say something’s not right about this child, they really need to step up to the plate, whether it is that they talk to the vice principal or the principal or a guidance counselor to let them do their proper work and investigate the issue. I think that’s very important.
COOPER: Connie Rose?
CONNIE ROSE: I’d like to share a little bit about my story, because I am that survivor. I am that victim. My 40th class reunion [was last] weekend for Jefferson High School; I’m very proud of that. But at the same time, I was a B and A student, I modeled, I was a Dragonette, I was in pageants. ..I was that student that you looked at that went to church – Catholic and Greek orthodox – no way could she be sexually abused for so many years, but more importantly, no way could she be leaving class, skipping school and servicing johns in the parking lot, or servicing johns on municipal causeway. There was no way that I looked like that person, right? You would never, ever think that. But we’ve got to wake up, because our kids are skipping school, or if it’s after school, they’re meeting someone after school before they go home. It’s real easy. For me, I just, when I got caught skipping school, the principal said, “What are you doing?” and I said, “Well, you know I really want to go to the University of Tampa and dance for them, so I’ve just been practicing extra so I can hopefully get a dance scholarship.” And he bought it. I didn’t get in trouble. So, pay attention, please, because it goes so much farther than the scope that you can ever, ever imagine.
Hear more of the discussion taped on location at the Centre Club in Tampa on Florida Matters Tuesday, Dec. 30 at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday, Jan. 4 at 7:30 a.m. We first aired this panel on Aug., 26 at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 31 at 7:30 a.m. on WUSF 89.7 FM.