Human trafficking still common crime

They are moved every two weeks across parts of the United States.

Most are women who were beaten and threatened to work in the hotels as maids, restaurants and in orange and tomato fields. Stripped of their freedom and bound by language barriers, professor Terrance Coonan said human trafficking from other countries is still the second leading type of organized crime.

“We are suddenly seeing slavery all over the United States,” said Coonan, who is the executive director of the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights at Florida State University.

“Human trafficking is the idea of keeping people slaves. The smugglers beat and rape girls to break them down and keep them working,” he said.

Coonan talked about human trafficking Wednesday in the Perry Paige Auditorium. The seminar was hosted by the FAMU Model United Nations organization as a part of its International Awareness Week.

The Department of Children and Families went to FSU and asked Coonan to investigate how foreigners were being smuggled in the United States and forced to work for free.

“Many of these people from Mexico, Russia and Asia are tricked into coming into the United States because they think they are getting an opportunity to have a better life,” he said.

Coonan, who is also a lawyer, said human trafficking “started in Mexico when an older woman went to recruit young girls. The girls were taken by smugglers to Texas and were made to be prostitutes in houses.”

However, Coonan’s objective for the seminar was to help students realize that human trafficking was minutes away from where they live. A lot of the crimes are being committed primarily in the Florida Panhandle.

“The Russian mobs own most of the strip clubs in Florida. They bring Russian girls in and force them to prostitute,” Coonan said.

“Many Chinese restaurants in Florida have Mexican slaves working and sleeping on mattresses in the back of the restaurant,” he said.

Some students said that because of the information learned they would be more aware of what was going on around them.

“I thought it was enlightening and provocative. I didn’t realize this issue was going on so close to FAMU,” said Omar Neely, 21, from the Bahamas.

The senior economics student said, ” I will definitely go and spread the information and be looking for (human trafficking).”

Hugh Williams, an advisor for FAMU’s MUNO and diplomat in Residence for the U.S. Department of State, said his responsibility was to recruit students like Neely who were interested in this particular crime.

“We want students from FAMU to join us and work with us to prevent this crime from happening,” he said.

Other students felt slave trafficking should be discussed and more students should become involved.

“It was something that needed to be said because we as citizens of this country are oblivious to what goes on,” said Janae Deveaux, 21, a senior business administration student from West Palm Beach. “I see them all the time on my way home, but you don’t know what you can do for them.”

Coonan had information on how laws were being passed to protect these enslaved people and begin to “do something for them”.

Coonan said the Trafficking Victim Protection Act Congress passed in 2000 allowed illegal people to become legal if they prosecuted their smuggler.

The act also let them bring in immediate families to the United States to live with them.

Bu the language barrier is another obstacle that may make the law hard to enforce.

“We found that many went to convenient stores and music stores and may be standing right next to us, but they were too afraid to talk or they couldn’t speak English,” Coonan said.

One teacher said that she enjoyed the seminar and hoped that her class would take something back with them.

“I think awareness is always powerful. I will be more observant. It also allows me to empower my students so they are not so vulnerable,” said Talitha Coverson, a teacher at Sakkara Youth Instittute.

Coonan said if any students recognized human trafficking, they would have to show proof of forced labor and show that a person was unable to leave the situation.

Contact Sarah Chester at