Warning issued on sex trafficking of minors in Tampa
TAMPA It’s hard for some to believe that sex trafficking of minors is happening in the Tampa Bay area, said a community leader studying the issues. But Tampa Bay is a major hub for the crime in the state. And Florida has the third most reports in the nation – behind Texas and California – for such activities, said Dotti Groover-Skipper, community awareness chair, Tampa Bay Community Campaign Against Human Trafficking, speaking to the League of Women Voters recently. “Most people can’t believe this happens, but it is right under our noses,” she said, adding that several groups, including the Hillsborough County Commission on the Status of Women and the Junior League of Tampa, are working collaboratively to try to address the issue. She said that often, runaway teens are recruited at bus stops, malls, parks and other locations. One out of three will be tricked or forced into prostitution within 48 hours of being out on their own, she said.“Somebody has had a fight with their family – not feeling good about themselves – and a Romeo, a charismatic guy, is just waiting for them,” Groover-Skipper, a North Tampa resident, added. Local and state officials are not only paying more attention to the situation but also preparing awareness campaigns aimed at the public. In addition to awareness, Groover-Skipper said facilities are needed for victims rescued from such operations. Some social service agencies are looking to fill the gap, but additional funding is needed to establish such but funding is needed. League member Dena Leavengood said the Athena Society also will address the issue at its May 2 meeting. “The momentum is building to a tipping point,” Leavengood told the members, adding that churches also are getting involved. Earlier this month, the Commission on the Status of Women outlined recommendations to the county commission from a summit it sponsored in the fall. Those recommendations are available at www.hillsboroughcounty.org/documentcenter/view/6968.