Regarding “Child sex cases a silent crisis” (front page, Aug. 26):
Human trafficking, a $32 billion-a-year industry, is a form of modern-day slavery that involves the exploitation of people for one of two things — commercial sex or forced labor. Florida ranks third in the U.S. in human trafficking, and the Tampa Bay area is estimated to be a top destination spot for this insidious activity. We have seen the largest cases in the country in both of those categories here in Florida.
Child sex trafficking is a horrific crime that robs its victims of their innocence, causing significant physical, mental and emotional trauma. Each year in the U.S., nearly 300,000 children as young as 12 are held against their will and forced to provide sexual acts for an average of 15 to 30 men a night, seven days a week.
Florida has 30,000 to 40,000 teen runaways each year; one in three will be lured into trafficking within 48 hours of being on their own. It takes only 90 seconds for a trafficker to size up our vulnerable and offer to provide for their needs — food, iPod, clothes, attention. In the Tampa Bay area, 75 percent of the rescued child victims are runaways, while 25 percent are recruited or taken.
It is important that we, as a community, open our eyes a little wider and watch out for critical signs that may indicate that a child, or any person, may be a trafficking victim. Some things to look for:
Is the person you suspect accompanied by a controlling person, older person, boss? Not speaking on their own behalf? Have lack of control over their personal schedule, money, identification? Have bruises, depression, fear, overly submissive and branding tattoos? Transported to or from work? Lives and works in the same place?
In the case of child sex trafficking, look for, in addition to the above, a child who does not trust adults; who is afraid of being deported by authorities; who seems to have inappropriate behavior toward male adults; who has a cellphone despite a lack of other basic belongings; and who travels alone or with a group of children accompanied by one adult who seems to guard them.
If you suspect anything at all, please report your suspicion to 1-888-373-7888.
The writer is chair of the Community Campaign Against Human Trafficking Tampa Bay.