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Human trafficking documentary makes Tampa Theatre debut tonight

TAMPA — Constance “Connie” Rose was 15 when her father began setting her up on dates with clients.

By day she attended Jefferson High. On weekend nights in the 1970s, her father would have her work as a prostitute in Ybor City, downtown Tampa, at house parties along the Hillsborough River and at area hotels.

“It was really more about control for him,” said Rose, now 56, who said her father also sexually abused her as a child. “He controlled every string.”

He set her up with clients from 1972 to 1976. She escaped that life when she got married at 19.

In the 1980s she became an advocate for the sexually abused when she saw a news story about a California sexual abuse case in which some said people who had been sexually abused would also abuse their own children.

“I decided I needed to find a way to share my story,” said Rose, the mother of two children who are now adults. “You can move past it.”

On Thursday, she’ll tell her story as part of a documentary on human trafficking entitled “Too Close to Home.” The documentary was produced by Tampa’s WEDU-PBS and will be screened for the first time at 7:30 p.m. at the Tampa Theatre, 711 N. Franklin St. Admission is free.

The documentary will introduce the audience to three survivors, including Rose, who have roots in the Tampa area and will serve as an educational tool on human trafficking, including sex trafficking, forced labor and domestic servitude.

After the 30-minute documentary, Rose, who is founder and president of the local non profit Victims 2 Survivors, will speak to the audience. There also will be a candlelight vigil to honor the victims, and activists will have booths in the lobby and be available to answer questions.

“I hope it moves people from being reactive to creating social change so that people are aware and won’t tolerate this,” said Rose, 56, of Tampa.

WEDU-PBS started work on the project six months ago with the help of the Allegheny Franciscan Ministries, which helped sponsor the documentary.

The film focuses on human trafficking, a $32 billion business worldwide. Florida ranks third nationally in the amount of human trafficking, said Kristine Kelly, who produced and edited the documentary and is senior producer and content services manager at WEDU-PBS.

“A lot of people think it’s done overseas or it is something that happens in a movie,” Kelly said. But, she said, the Tampa Bay area is a hot spot for human trafficking.

One attraction is the number of strip clubs and massage parlors in the area, she said. The average age for victims in sex trafficking is 12 to 14, Kelly said.

One in three runaways will be approached by a trafficker on the street within 48 hours of running away, Kelly said. More than 80 percent of the victims in the sex trade were previously sexually molested, she said.

While runaways and foster care children are targets, victims shouldn’t be stereotyped, experts said. Everyone is vulnerable to the traffickers, Kelly said.

It isn’t unusual for a trafficker to approach a group of teens wandering the mall, Kelly said. Once they’re approached, the trafficker will focus on the most vulnerable one, she said.

“Traffickers prey on people who have low self esteem, who have needs that need to be met (such as) attention, love,” Kelly said.

In a state with 30,000 to 40,000 teenage runaways each year, the problem becomes daunting, said Dotti Groover-Skipper, chair of the Community Campaign Against Human Trafficking Tampa Bay.

“They have a promise of love or of a job that turns into a nightmare,” Groover-Skipper said.

Females aren’t the only victims of human trafficking.

“There are no boundaries,” Groover-Skipper said. “It can be any of our children.”

The agriculture businesses, the hotels and restaurants in the area also contribute to the number of forced laborers in Tampa Bay, advocates siad.

Traffickers gather the laborers, take their documents and threaten them or their families if they don’t complete the work or fall out of line, Kelly said. The trafficker has their paper work and documentation, which makes it near impossible for the laborer -- many who don’t speak English -- to escape, she said.

In both sex trafficking and forced labor, drugs often are used as a means of control, Kelly said.

The documentary will be an eye opener for the community, Groover-Skipper said.

“It will equip our community to take the necessary steps to make this a zero tolerance zone for human trafficking,” Groover-Skipper said.

The documentary will also air at 9 p.m. Sept. 26 on WEDU-PBS. Afterward, there will be a recorded round table discussion featuring experts, including Groover-Skipper, who will speak about human trafficking and how it has impacted Tampa Bay. More information about the documentary and human traffic also is available online at WEDU.org/humantrafficking.

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Twitter: @jpatinoTBO

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