In late June, four Miami-Dade men were arrested — accused of recruiting foster children from a group home to work at a Homestead brothel. If that news surprised you, you weren’t alone. Most residents don’t know that the victimization of young girls is a significant issue here.
Statistics rank Greater Miami as ninth and Florida as the third highest trafficking destination in the country, and half of all trafficking victims are children. We live in the 9th worst place for sex trafficking in the country.
According to estimates from the U.N. Global Initiative to Fight Human trafficking, 2.5 million people worldwide are in forced labor, including sexual exploitation, at any given time as a result of trafficking. Of these, nearly half are estimated to be children. Nearly half are used for forced commercial sexual exploitation. And most of those are women and girls.
Last week, President Barack Obama, addressing the Clinton Global Initiative, brought these statistics home in a passionate and heartfelt speech. He reminded us that this month marked the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. He said, “ . . . it brought a new day — that ‘all persons held as slaves’ would thenceforth be forever free.” Yet this modern slavery continues. The president spoke of the essential work being done worldwide to speak up against trafficking. And he brought the bright light home, acknowledging that this problem does not stop at our borders.
In fact, the fight against the trafficking of our women and girls starts right here in our own backyards. The commitment to this fight has already taken root in Florida with the passage of two landmark pieces of legislation during the 2012 legislative session. On June 12, we were honored to be present as Gov. Rick Scott signed two bills into law that were designed to fight human trafficking. Their passage was the result of the efforts of many at the legislative level, most notably the tireless work of Trudy Novicki, executive director of Kristi House in Miami-Dade.
In July, the Miami-Dade school district, together with federal agencies, law enforcement and social service groups, passed a resolution authorizing an awareness campaign aimed at training teachers and administrators; they’re working on a campaign to educate students too. And last week the Florida Children and Youth Cabinet, under the auspices of the Florida Office of Adoption and Child Protection, convened a half-day Trafficking Summit, again working to raise public awareness of trafficking and to encourage statewide conversation.
We are encouraged that President Obama and the Clinton Global Initiative are shining a light on domestic trafficking. We are gratified that they’ve committed to stepping up efforts to go after the traffickers but also to “treat victims as victims, not criminals.” We are heartened that the issue is being both studied and addressed in Tallahassee and right here in our county.
But trafficking won’t stop because of good laws and summits. President Obama challenged every nation, every business, every faith community and every citizen to take action. We must educate ourselves and others. We must tell the stories of the victims, support the programs that help them heal, and press law enforcement, the legislature, and our national leaders to say “no more.”
The women and girls of Miami-Dade, the United States and the world are counting on us.
Marj H. Adler is chair of the Women’s Fund of Miami-Dade.