Human trafficking growing problem in Clearwater, Tampa Bay
Members of the Clearwater Area Task Force on Human Trafficking and others appeared at SPC’s Clearwater Campus Wednesday (March 3) to discuss a serious local problem that is not widely recognized – trafficking in human beings.
Presenters described a widespread problem that pervades Tampa Bay, the state of Florida and many U.S. states. Victims may come from a variety of foreign countries, while others are U.S. citizens.
Victims are generally forced into prostitution or used as laborers. Force, fraud or coercion are used to control the behavior of victims and keep them in servitude.
James McBride, a Clearwater detective who serves on the Task Force, said foreign victims are often coerced into coming to the U.S. by the promise of jobs that pay enough so that money can be sent back home.
“They are told that they will have a good job, then they are forced to do something else,” McBride said.
The human trafficking numbers are startling. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, between 500,000 and two million people are victims of human trafficking worldwide. Around 70 percent are female. McBride said it is the second most lucrative, right behind drug dealing.
“Some drug organizations are beginning to turn to human trafficking because the profits are high and the penalties are much less,” he said.
Another presenter, Cal Cundiff, a special agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, talked about how houses of prostitution which use human trafficking victims often exist in middle class or upper middle class neighborhoods in Clearwater and other areas of Tampa Bay. Neighbors are often unaware of their presence, he said.
“The safe houses and flop houses are often in neighborhoods where you and I live,” he said.
lso taking part in the discussion were Diana Soto, a victim advocate with the Clearwater Hispanic Outreach Center; Robin Gomez, the city of Clearwater’s auditor and liaison to the city’s Hispanic community; and Mary Anyan, of SPC’s Center for Public Safety Innovation.
The presentation was presented as part of Clearwater Matters, an ongoing series of public service programs that examine issues of interest to the people of Clearwater. Clearwater Matters was put together by Clearwater Provost Stan Vittetoe and other campus leaders.
To learn more about human trafficking adn SPC’s Center for Human Trafficking Awareness visit http://haltht.spcollege.edu
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