Experts on the front lines in the fight against human trafficking gather in Pensacola Friday, for a summit sponsored by the local Chamber of Commerce.
Human trafficking has no boundaries at all; it doesn’t matter what gender you are, it doesn’t matter what age, orientation, or tax bracket.
The Circuit One Human Trafficking Task Force Summit is set for Friday at Olive Baptist Church. Sara Lefevers with the chamber is one of the organizers, and says the task force is one of 29 across Florida, generally set up along judicial circuit lines per state law as the Florida Alliance to End Human Trafficking.
“They realized they needed some grassroots efforts as well; so they formed the task forces,” said Lefevers. “Our Circuit One Task Force is Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton Counties. Basically, our job is to work alongside law enforcement to report, give tips to them – if we see something we say something – but also to raise awareness.”
Florida was 3rd in the nation in the number of calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline in 2018 – almost 1,900 — behind only California and Texas. Fifty-two of the calls came from Circuit One and all involved minors, according to the Department of Children and Families.
“We have the I-10 corridor, which makes it very easy for traffickers to come in and out of the Panhandle,” Lefevers said. “We saw on New Year’s Eve the two that were arrested on I-10 for trafficking. It’s very prominent for people to come across our geographical boundaries. We have our ports that go in and out of the country. There are a lot of different factors that play into that.”
Julio Moreno and Jose Hernandez were arrested during a traffic stop on Interstate 10 on suspicion of human trafficking, after state troopers found two people hiding inside their vehicle.
As mentioned, the summit is set for Olive Baptist Church Friday evening. Lefevers says the date — January 10 — is not coincidental.
“January 11 is actually National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, and Saturday was just hard to get everybody to an event like this with everybody being so busy,” said Lefevers. “So Friday night just seemed to be the logical time; a lot of people can make that after work. We also wanted to be available for teenagers to come.”
Keynote Speaker is Erin Collins, executive director of the organization In Trafficking Incorporated – which Lefevers says is the direct support wing of the Florida Alliance to End Human Trafficking.
“There are a lot of organizations across the state of Florida trying to eradicate human trafficking, but they need some financial support, financial or resources,” Lefevers said. “And so, they came up with In Trafficking Inc. to support the task forces and organizations that are on the ground fighting this fight.”
Three speakers will host breakout sessions. Sarah Peacock with One More Child will discuss “Bridging the Gap with Law Enforcement;” Bradley Lord with the Lakeview Center has “Trauma Informed Care and Human Trafficking;” and Brad Dennis with Klass Kids will offer “Human Trafficking 101.”
“We’re excited for that because that will be an opportunity for someone who maybe is not familiar with human trafficking – or what it looks like here in the Panhandle,” Lefevers said. “They can go to that breakout and get that understanding [that] human trafficking has several different variations.”
Thanks to Hollywood, Lefevers says people believe human trafficking happens in some other countries, through movies such as the “Taken” franchise starring Liam Neeson.
“I don’t know who you are, I don’t know what you want,” said Bryan Mills — Neeson’s character who’s a retired CIA agent -- on the phone to his daughter’s kidnappers. “If you’re looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you.”
“We want people to be aware that it’s not always that abduction, and taken out of the country and sold into slavery,” said Lefevers. “It’s kids that go to school and ride the school bus with your kids. They sit in the classroom; they play sports.”
And there are some signs that a child – or adult – could be victims of human trafficking.
“They may start staying out late at night with someone that the parents are not necessarily super familiar with,” Lefevers said. “Or they’re always on their phone – or they have two phones – or they suddenly become isolated and they don’t hang out with their friends. There’s signs of physical or sexual abuse. We want people to be vigilant about what to look for; and when you do see it, how to report.”
Once again, the Circuit One Human Trafficking Task Force Summit will be at Olive Baptist Church Friday evening from 7-9 p.m., with the doors opening at 6:30. If you suspect a trafficking case, you can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888; or text to 233733.