Tampa’s Human Trafficking Issue and How to Fix It


Liv Baker, Reporter

   When people think of Florida the first thoughts that usually come to mind are Disney World and the Everglades. Few are aware of the realities of Florida, like the fact that Florida is ranked number three in the United States for human trafficking. 

   Sex trafficking affects approximately 100,000 to 300,000 underage victims a year. The United Nations reports that there are nearly 27 million victims of this heinous crime a year, establishing the human trafficking industry as one of the most prosperous, raking in $32 million annually. 

   With Tampa being a leading city in the nation for sex trafficking cases, young children and parents should see an increase in warnings about the severity of this humanitarian crisis. According to the US Embassy, it is evident that technology has led to a surge in trafficking cases, but this same technology can be used to battle the negative effects. Parents and technology teachers should educate students on how to avoid and spot these attackers, in order to keep their children safe.

   Experts from Arizona State University say that the internet has catered to traffickers in multiple ways. The use of technology allows these criminals to create fake profiles in order to ‘catfish’ their victims, or they may use a GPS app or Snapchat Map to find their whereabouts. Some victims even stress the vulnerability of gaming platforms as well, it is not unusual for the ‘grooming’ process to begin through online gaming communities.

   There are numerous factors that make someone susceptible to being trafficked.  Advocate for Abused Women at Sunrise of Pasco Inc. Connie Lynn says “traffickers often target teens who have been very open about their home life. Troubled teens are most vulnerable. If a teenager posts about a quarrel with their family, it will appear that they are unsatisfied with their home life, and may attempt to run away.”

   Individually, teenagers can take certain online preventative steps to avoid appearing vulnerable to predators. Staying private on social media is always a good idea to easily filter through the people who you know personally and the people who pose a threat to your safety. Keeping your private life off social media, not sharing your location and not giving away personal information such as your address or phone number can help keep teens safe digitally.

Certain organizations such as Thorne or the app TraffickCam use recent developments of technology for the greater good, by using these innovations to track predators and locate victims. Awareness should be spread about these platforms and the National Sex Trafficking hotline (888-373-7888) should be displayed more often in order to discretely help these victims to freedom. 

   There are many warning signs that could signify that someone is a victim of human trafficking. Lynn says to be helpful and considerate if someone is showing signs of undergoing this situation. “Avoiding eye contact, malnourishment, bruises, and tattoos of diamonds are all common red flags exhibited by a victim. If you see someone in the presence of a demanding or controlling partner or parental figure, it also could be a sign of abuse.”

   As confirmed by CNN, 75 percent of victims are runaways Expanding on how to protect the occasional runaway from these attacks, Lynn says that Tampa should implement panic buttons that will notify police when danger is encountered on the streets. Cities should build more community housing for these troubled teenagers who, if they have nowhere to go, will be vulnerable to attack. Streets should be safe for people of all ages, genders and races and if these initiations are taken by Tampa, there is a possibility of protecting someone from the harsh conditions of human trafficking.

   Traditionally, the traffickers approach victims in public spaces. Often, they will pretend to be fellow teenagers, modeling agents or music producers in order to lure in the youth. Asking for credentials, researching the agency and not paying upfront can help protect you from deceitful companies. Simply looking at a company or agent’s customer reviews may not be enough to signal red flags.

   Additionally, Florida’s tourism that allows the state to thrive consequently poses a threat to local children. Florida’s entertainment industry means that Tampa is full of airports, hotels and restaurants, all of which are institutions where the employees have most reportedly gone missing due to human trafficking. It is even rumored that hosting the 2021 Superbowl will lead to an increase of cases, since temporary jobs will provide attackers with opportunities. In public it is advised to stay aware of your surroundings and try not to go anywhere alone, as there truly is safety in numbers.

   At a global scale, the United States is amongst the top countries for sex trafficking, along with Mexico and the Philippines. The U.S. Department of Justice states that a child is sold every two minutes, in order to combat this the Department was granted $100 million dollars in an attempt to locate and punish the offenders. It is largely recognized that human trafficking is a rapidly growing industry that poses a threat to the innocence of the youth.

   So far, to combat this issue many initiatives have been taken. In 2019, 83 laws to prevent sex trafficking were passed in the state of Florida. Hillsborough County is establishing a Committee for Human Trafficking, in order to support the victims in recovery. Downtown Tampa is now the site of a community house for the victims of these crimes in order to provide housing for those who have been abandoned by the abductors during the pandemic, funded by Rahab Daughter’s, an organization that aims to rehabilitate victims of trafficking.

   Collectively we should discourage buying products that are inhumanely made by companies who endorse human trafficking, educate ourselves on the warning signs of a victim, condemn abusive behaviors and raise money to combat this cruel practice. Health teachers have the responsibility to preach healthy relationships and to discourage staying in toxic or abusive relationships. Students have the duty to spread awareness about this issue and to help anyone who is exhibiting signs of trafficking abuse.

   With a rapidly growing internet, it is clear that trafficking will not be halted anytime soon. As a society whose duty is to protect the innocence of children the least we can do for prevention is to educate children about how to defend themselves on the web and in real life and to encourage spreading awareness about an issue that some deem too sensitive but it is an issue that has now affected millions.