In schools all across America, students are taught that slavery ended in the 19th Century when Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in January of 1863. Two years later, the 13th Amendment officially made all slavery and forms of involuntary servitude illegal. Sadly, nearly 150 years later, the fight to end slavery in America is not over. Today, even though it takes a different form and another name — human trafficking — slavery still exists.
For those unfamiliar with this modern-day form of slavery, human trafficking involves the exploitation of others, prostitution and forced labor. Many of its victims are children.
It is especially disturbing to learn how prevalent this crime against humanity is in South Florida. Florida, regrettably, has been identified as a hub for human trafficking activity. According to a 2011 study by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, Florida ranks third to only California and Texas. Between July 2011 and June 2012, federal prosecutors in South Florida amassed an alarming 12 convictions and brought six indictments involving human trafficking. As a result of state legislation, which took effect July 1, human smuggling is now considered a felony which will carry stronger sentences.
Despite the threat of harsher penalties, we still have a long way to go in this fight. Victims may show signs of physical abuse. They may seem fearful, work excessively long or unusual hours and show signs of not being permitted to come and go freely. Often, personnel such as hotel staff, healthcare providers, teachers, taxi drivers and landlords are most likely to come in contact with human traffickers and their victims.
The Broward League of Cities has made human trafficking a priority, with emphasis on educating our cities’ police, fire and building departments, and the business community. In addition to recognizing its tell-tale signs and alerting law enforcement, we can all do our part by advocating for laws that ban all forms of exploitation and volunteering at local organizations such as the Broward Human Trafficking Coalition, Covenant House Florida, Broward County Sexual Assault Treatment Center and Women in Distress of Broward County.
More information on how to take action can be found at www.polarisproject.org.
Also, in recognition of Human Trafficking Awareness Day, the Broward Human Trafficking Coalition is hosting XXX-PLOITATION Human Trafficking 101 Training from 1 to 4:30 p.m. Friday at the Main Library in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Education and action are essential to oppose this awful problem in our communities.
Susan D. Starkey, first vice president, Broward League of Cities, Davie