Activist Lab presents seminar on human trafficking

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January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month

“How many thought that in 2019 we’d be using the word slavery?”

That was a question posed by Liana Dean, chair of the Pasco County Commission on Human Trafficking, to a group of about 50 students, faculty and the public during a presentation on human trafficking held on Friday, Jan. 18, in the Samuel Bell Auditorium at the USF College of Public Health (COPH).

The seminar was sponsored by the COPH’s Activist Lab, which provides interdisciplinary advocacy, education, research and service opportunities for students to develop skills that promote their ability to be effective public health advocates and leaders. The Activist Lab, overseen by Dr. Karen Liller, professor of community and family health, has designated human trafficking as a cause to focus on in 2019.

“Well,” Dean continued. “Human trafficking is modern-day slavery.”

World map displaying where victims of human trafficking come from and where they end up. (Photo by Anna Mayor)

Dean noted that 40.3 million people worldwide are victims of human trafficking, a crime of exploitation that involves coercion, force or fraud. It occurs when men, women and children are under the control of another person and are stripped of their rights and treated as property.

World map displaying where victims of human trafficking come from and where they end up. (Photo by Anna Mayor)

Other takeaways:

  • Most human trafficking is not committed for the purposes of commercial sexual activity. In fact, said Dean, 24.9 million of the over 40 million people trafficked globally are forced into labor, oftentimes in nail salons, massage parlors, amusement parks, agricultural industries and food service. But, there can be overlap. “A lot of the violence we think about when we think of people exploited for commercial sex is also experienced by those who are trafficked for labor,” Dean said. “They are beaten. They are raped. They are starved.”
  • The United States is the largest consumer of humans trafficked.
  • Harvesting human organs—corneas, kidneys, livers, etc.—is an emerging form of human trafficking.
  • Florida consistently ranks third in the number of calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. The fact that Florida is a hotbed of human trafficking is probably due to a number of factors, Dean said, including the state’s tourism and agricultural industries, its warm weather and its number of transient residents.
  • A “trafficker” can be anyone—man, woman, family member, even a child. Dean recounted a case where a local middle school boy was “pimping out” girls.

Human trafficking is a crime of exploitation, and those who engage in it prey on the vulnerable: children, people who don’t speak the language or understand the culture, and those with little education or nowhere to live.

Besides educating the audience on what human trafficking is, Dean also offered suggestions on how to recognize those who are being trafficked—often people who appear isolated, malnourished and abused and who are fearful, anxious or submissive.

“If you can answer yes to any of those things, you’re potentially witnessing human trafficking,” said Dean. “Those who are trafficked are not usually bound in chains. Their chains are fear and trauma and the Stockholm Syndrome [a psychological phenomenon where captives bond with their captors].”

If you think you’re seeing human trafficking, do not intervene, urged Dean. “You could cause more harm,” she noted. “Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline [1-888-373-7888]. They will contact local law enforcement and share the information.”

To advocate for victims, Dean advised reaching out to legislators to add anti-human trafficking curriculum to schools (currently sixth and ninth graders in Pasco County are taught about human trafficking), shopping at stores with fair-trade policies and encouraging communities to make certain areas, like churches or schools, zones that are free from human trafficking.

“Advocate for legislation. Do research on human trafficking and share it. Demand action. Demand reduction,” Dean said.

To get involved in human trafficking advocacy at the USF College of Public Health, visit the Activist Lab’s website. For more information about human trafficking visit Pasco County’s Commission on Human Trafficking website.

Story by Donna Campisano, USF College of Public Health

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