Event sheds light on human trafficking

Participants gather at the closing of End It Movement's "Human Trafficking: Be in it to end it."
Photo submitted by Naja Hardmon

Representatives from the Salvation Army’s End It movement came to the Grand Ballroom Tuesday for “Human trafficking: Be in it to End It.”

Their goal was to educate and bring awareness on the epidemic and the unknown factors that contribute to the widespread crime.

“We really want to get a fire lit under FAMU students,” said Julie Smith, the special events and community relations coordinator for the Salvation Army Tallahassee. “We know what a driving force that can be, we can just imagine all of the things they can do going forward.”

Human trafficking, or the trade of humans for forced labor, sexual acts or commercial sexual exploitation, continues to grow across the country, and may be occurring closer to home than most realize.

“Specifically for college campuses, a lot of young people perceive that this could never happen to them or that this doesn’t happen here,” said Lt. Amber Meo, Corps Officer for the Salvation Army.  “The reality is that everyday, average American men and women of all ages, children, boys, and girls are taken into the dark world of human trafficking.”

The importance of spreading awareness is not lost to just the Salvation Army. In a nationwide study published by the Human Trafficking Institute in its 2018 Human Trafficking Report, the state of Florida is ranked third in the United States for the largest number of active criminal human trafficking cases in the federal court system. In the 2017 report, Florida reported 57 cases that year alone, soaring above the national average of 12.64.

The End Slavery Now movement, launched in 2009, aims to educate the public about the issue of human trafficking, connect with organizations and act to end slavery. One key initiative is hosting annual interactive seminars like “Be in it to End It” as well as requested presentations and training sessions.

“We try to do something very different every year and this just kept coming to our heads and our minds,” Smith said. “We kind of just saw it happening so this became our event for the year.”

For the event this year, guests participated in interactive sessions detailing the characteristics of a human trafficker, where they may be located and how to determine a victim. A special vigil dedicated to childhood sexual exploitation victims of human trafficking brought a sense of communal empathy to take initiative for making a change.

“This program was designed specifically for this event, but we do have trainings we go out and we train,” said Smith.

Reflection stations were also available for more information regarding human trafficking.

“When we’re thinking about ways that we can raise awareness, the university is really the best place because you have young people here who are excited and in the prime of their life who can really be the catalyst for change,” said Meo.

“In a lot of ways they can all benefit from this knowledge so that they can protect themselves (and) can notice the warning signs (and) learn what the warning signs are and know how to act if they suspect that they’ve encountered someone whose involved in human trafficking so it really makes sense that we would do what we could to reach the college population.”

If you suspect any human trafficking activity, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1(888) 373-7888.