Letters to the Editor

Transforming minors from enslaved to empowered

Miami is packed with visitors seeking some of the great fun generated by events such as the Miami Boat Show, the Coconut Grove Arts Festival, and the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. Tourism is central to our economy. While most locals talk of packed restaurants and the inconvenience of traffic, there’s another aspect to our magnetism that isn’t often discussed: Florida generates the third-largest number of calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

Human trafficking, more specifically domestic, minor sex trafficking, has been identified as a form of modern-day slavery. Its victims are young children, teenagers and adults. Sex traffickers use violence, threats, lies, debt bondage and other methods to force children into commercial sex. Indeed, there is no such person as a child prostitute, only a child rape victim.

Miami has taken a stand and isn’t going to let children be sold for sex. Building on the momentum created by our partnership with the Women’s Fund Freedom From Violence Coalition, the Greater Miami Jewish Federation’s Task Force to Combat Human Trafficking invited Theresa Flores, founder of Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution (S.O.A.P.), was invited to address a standing-room-only group of volunteers. As a survivor of domestic minor sex trafficking, Flores shared her story of middle-class suburban teenage life and the horrors of being forced into the sex trade at age 15, while still living at home and going to school.

Our volunteers, people from all walks of life determined to intervene on behalf of children, listened to Flores’ transformation from enslaved to empowered, all the while affixing stickers with the national human trafficking hotline onto small bars of soap traditionally found in motel bathrooms. She related that the only moment of privacy she had while being forced to have sex with dozens of men occurred while she was washing up.

Armed with bags of these soaps with a life-saving message, along with fliers of missing local children, we visited area motels to create partnerships and change the culture of apathy in our city. We were not there to shame any business, but rather to underline our mutual dependency as neighbors.

Desk clerks sincerely scanned the faces of the missing children and thanked us for the soaps. Some even urged our volunteers to return with more soap and continue this partnership. And that’s what our task force will do.

We have advocated in Tallahassee for the Safe Harbor Act, which ensures that child victims are assisted by child-welfare professionals, not considered juvenile delinquents, as well as increased legal penalties for the traffickers.

Join us as we continue to educate and advocate for the children in our community and create a zero tolerance for slavery in Miami.

Nancy Zaretsky, chair, Task Force to Combat Human Trafficking, Miami