BY CAMERON MOORE
At plain sight, 15-year-old Marisol was a regular waitress working in Texas. However, behind the curtains, Marisol was being forced to sell sex at a cantina and give up all her tip money to her trafficker. She was smuggled across the border by an organized network and housed in a cramped apartment with ten other girls and women. Every night, she went to the bar and tried to convince men to buy the overpriced drinks, after which, she was forced to lead them to the back room to sell sex. If she refused to comply, she was beaten severely. Marisol did as she was told, because it was the only way she felt she could survive.
On Wed., March 21, Marisol’s story was one of the many shared at the Peace Out Human Trafficking event, which was hosted at Vaughn courtyard . The event was organized and put on by students in Denis Rey’s, associate professor of political science, Introduction to Peace Studies class. The event was done as an assignment in Rey’s class, due to the relevance of the topic in the Tampa Bay area and the resources the class had to bring awareness to it.
“We are saying goodbye to human trafficking in our community by being advocates and educators,” said Jennifer Campbell, a senior political science major who helped organize the event. “By educating our peers about the signs of trafficking and what to do if we see these signs, then we will be another step closer to putting a stop to human trafficking.”
In pursuit of spreading awareness about the horrors of human trafficking, tables at the event had pieces of different stories of victims of human trafficking, which they called Walking in a Victim’s Shoes. If students collected each piece of a victim’s story, they received a shirt that they could have tye-dyed.
Stories just like that of Marisol’s are happening all over the United States, from right here in Tampa Bay, to many of the cities that host the Super Bowl, which is commonly known as the single largest human trafficking event in the United States. When large events like the Super Bowl take place, the rate of human trafficking spikes. This is due to the massive amounts of people travelling to new cities, which makes it a prime time for human traffickers.
There are many businesses such as spas, massage parlors and strip clubs as close to UT as West Kennedy Boulevard and Dale Mabry Highway, which moonlight for centers for human trafficking. Photos of these businesses were on display on posters at the event. According to Nechelle Knott, who works with the U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking, and other organizations like it, by day these are still legitimate businesses.
“In order to make an arrest, police must see the actual transfer of money, which is usually done behind closed doors at many of these establishments,” Knott said. “That makes it really difficult for the police to take down these businesses unless they send someone in undercover.”
The Polaris Project, a leader in the global effort to disrupt human trafficking networks everywhere, states on their website that the National Hotline and BeFree textline identified over 10,000 victims in 2017, with another over 2,000 survivors reaching out for help.
“I never realized how prevalent it is in the Tampa area,” said Roman Barber, a sophomore international studies major and organizer of the event. “There are so many different fronts that we pass by on a daily basis and don’t even know that they are actually taking part in human trafficking. It was also so eye opening learning that most of the victims were trafficked by people they knew and trusted.”
For further information or help for those who seek it, contact the Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
Cameron Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.