Local business, organizations raise awareness on sex trafficking

In the ongoing fight against human trafficking, several local businesses and organizations have stepped up to raise awareness on the issue.

Fifteen groups, mostly in Pasco County, have been declared “Trafficking Free Zones,” by the U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking, a nonprofit group based in Tampa:

  • Magnolia Plastic Surgery Center
  • NOW SC Press
  • Design & Construction Innovations
  • Paperjacket
  • Searchwurx
  • Next Machine
  • Pasco Economic Development Council
  • We Love Logos
  • Martinez Law
  • North Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce
  • Florida Hospital Center Ice
  • CU Engage
  • Berkeley Search Associates
  • Impact Church
  • Hope Church

To earn the designation, the various groups issued a proclamation stating their organization’s commitment to stand against human sex trafficking; provided awareness training to all employees on human trafficking; and, created a “zero tolerance” handbook policy for employees that engage in sex buying or human trafficking.

The U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking has declared several local businesses and organizations ‘Trafficking Free Zones,’ for taking steps to raise awareness on the issue of human sex trafficking. (Courtesy of U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking)

“A business has a certain sphere of influence over the folks they engage with, especially their employee population,” Geoff Rogers, the chief executive officer of the institute against human trafficking said, in a recent interview with The Laker/Lutz News.

“The communities where we’ve seen the fight against sex trafficking be most successful are those who have the entire community running after it at the same time,” he explained.

The institute against human trafficking is urging more organizations to participate in the program, which is free.

“Apathy is one of the biggest problems that we face, so we’ve been very focused on how do we get people involved and what can they do,” Rogers said.

The institute’s Trafficking Free Zone program launched in May.

The program establishes a holistic approach – a multisector partnership involving law enforcement, government, businesses, schools and community-based organizations — to try and reduce the demand for sex trafficking.

It also focuses on arresting and prosecuting sex buyers instead of those who are being sold, and educating community members on sex trafficking and implementing other demand reduction techniques, like offering resources for victims, as well as those struggling with sex and/or porn addiction.

Tampa-based U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking works to end human trafficking in the United States through prevention, rescue of victims, combating demand, and providing safe refuge for the restoration of survivors.

Rogers said those techniques are proven practices that have been used across the country. “With all these different sectors of society firing away at the sex trafficking problem, that’s when we begin to see the bottom drop out of demand and real substantive changes and improvement be made in the fight against trafficking within that community.”

Also, through the Trafficking Free Zone program, the institute has partnered with the Pasco Sheriff’s Office on a cyber sting operation that attacks the demand-side of sex trafficking by targeting and identifying online sex buyers through the use of intercept bots. That initiative has been underway since July.

Human sex trafficking has been under the microscope in Florida for some time.

The state has consistently ranked third in the number of cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, behind only California and Texas.

Tampa Bay usually ranks fourth in the state for the number of such calls.

Officials have said the region’s attraction as a tourism destination, along with having international airports and deep-water seaports, increases the likelihood for human sex trafficking. Hosting large sporting events and conventions also lends to the problem.

Pasco County officials have worked to address the issue locally.

In 2014, Pasco County Commissioners formed the Pasco County Commission on Human Trafficking to promote public awareness about human trafficking, create educational programming opportunities and advocate for strategies to aid survivors of human trafficking.

That commission helped pass an ordinance in 2016 that mandates signage raising awareness of human trafficking to be posted in the restrooms and dressing rooms of sexually oriented businesses, such as adult entertainment establishments and unlicensed massage services.

It also trained more than 3,000 members of the community on human trafficking through its community awareness presentations.

“In many respects, Pasco County is one of the leading counties in the state of Florida in the fight against sex trafficking,” Rogers said.

For information, visit TraffickingFreeZone.com.

Published September 5, 2018

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