Walk through any public middle or high school in Pasco County, and you’re bound to come across impactful posters bringing awareness to the issue of human trafficking.
They’re pretty hard to miss.
Displayed in bright pink and green colors, with large fonts in English and Spanish versions, the posters explain that human trafficking is a crime where someone is forced to work or engage in a commercial sex act against their will. They warn that anyone, especially young people, can be a victim, and that it’s happening in Florida.
The posters lists warning signs that someone, particularly a friend or another student, may be involved in human trafficking. They may be a victim if she or he:
- Often runs away and skips school
- Has bruises, scars, brands or untreated injuries
- Is distant from family/friends
- Has a controlling older boyfriend/girlfriend
- Suddenly has expensive possessions
The posters informs students on ways to help. They can:
- Be aware and learn to recognize the signs
- Immediately report suspected trafficking to your school’s Corporal/SRO(School Resource Officer)
- Encourage anyone you suspect is being trafficked to talk to a school social worker
- Provide support; remind your friend that help is available and they are not alone
Contact information for the National Human Trafficking Hotline is listed, too.
The posters were placed in schools this year.
They’re the brainchild of the Priceless Youth Movement, an anti-human trafficking club at Land O’ Lakes High School.
The club also collaborated on the project with the Pasco County Commission on Human Trafficking and the Pasco County School District.
The club was founded by Makayla Hildebrand, now an 18-year-old freshman at the University of South Florida, studying political science and criminology.
She created the club her senior year of high school, after being moved by the 2016 film, “Priceless,” a drama about human trafficking based on true events.
“I was pretty shocked that I hadn’t known (human trafficking) was something going on,” Hildebrand said. “Before that, I didn’t even know it existed.
“I didn’t know there was something going on this big. That’s when I started looking into it more,” she said.
She figured a poster campaign would be a good way to spread awareness to youth in schools.
Hildebrand and others gathered input from students and youth from the Runaway Alternatives Project (RAP) House in New Port Richey, on designs to best get the messages across.
Something big, bold, and vibrant was suggested.
“The main idea behind them, is that we want kids to look at these,” Hildebrand said. “I’m getting feedback that kids are actually noticing them and they know that they’re there, and not just something else that’s hanging on their school wall.”
The posters have since reached recreation centers and courthouses in Pasco.
Many other local organizations have also requested posters, Hildebrand said.
“We’ve had a lot of people ask us for them,” Hildebrand said. “They’re getting around, which we’re really happy about.”
Besides the poster initiative, Hildebrand’s club — which had over a dozen members — also participated in a handful of fundraisers.
They assisted with a supplies drive for Redefining Refuge, a Tampa Bay organization that helps young trafficking victims.
They also partnered with the U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking, selling T-shirts to raise money for the organization’s safe home for trafficked boys.
And, although Hildebrand has since moved on to college, she remains an active volunteer with the Pasco County Commission on Human Trafficking.
There, she serves as a youth-friendly voice to what can be sensitive subject matter, human sex trafficking.
“I just want to encourage more kids to get involved and do something about it, that they’re not only priceless, but they’re capable and able to take a stand,” she said.
Human trafficking is a multibillion dollar industry that enslaves approximately 25 million people around the world, according to the Polaris Project, a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that works to combat and prevent modern-day slavery and human trafficking.
The United States leads all other countries in the demand for trafficked victims.
Florida ranks No. 3 in the volume of calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
Published February 13, 2019