FGCU to host human trafficking symposium
Florida Gulf Coast University is hosting a human trafficking symposium later this month to educate Southwest Florida residents on the issue.
Between 18,000 and 20,000 people are trafficked into the United States each year, according to the Florida Freedom Partnership.
The university’s Division of Justice Studies and Continuing Education and Off-Campus Programs are working with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office to offer the free symposium to provide information to social workers and those in the public wanting to understand the issue of human trafficking.
The topic is “Agricultural Trafficking: A Human Rights Approach to its Recognition, Response and Prevention,” and the program will include speakers Laura Germino and Julia Perkins from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, as well as Maria Jose Fletcher, director of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center.
Dr. Christina Gallagher, program manager for FGCU’s Continuing Education, said the symposium is designed to raise awareness in Southwest Florida. It also is meant to teach people how to identify cases of trafficking in the community.
“If they see a situation that doesn’t look right, these series will give people avenues of who to call, what to do and where to report,” said Gallagher.
She said the speakers from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers will discuss human slavery on the national and local level, as well as their experiences working with victims and survivors.
“They will share immigration perspectives,” said Gallagher. “Most of the people come here with the intent to make a better life. In the case of labor traffickers, sometimes they get up and find out it isn’t as simple as they thought it was going to be.”
Agricultural trafficking consists of farm workers traveling to the United States illegally from Central and South America to work in the tomato or orange fields of South Florida. Once in the country, the workers are housed in substandard facilities, paid extremely low wages and kept in servitude through a number of unscrupulous methods.
In other cases, younger women from all over the world are transported to the United States and forced into the sex industry.
Mary Lewis, director of Our Mother’s Home, organized the Lee County Human Trafficking Task Force to help young women who were victims of the sex trade. It also tracks the women as they receive entrance into the United States and follows them as they receive job training.
Other organizations, such as Sanibel’s Human Trafficking Awareness Partnership, also carry out small presentations in the community about human trafficking.
Gallagher said the symposium is unique because it will provide three contract hours to local social workers, mental health counselors and nurses who need to enroll in continuing education classes to keep their licenses.
“It will help them improve their understanding of the issue and fulfill their continuing education requirements,” she said.
The symposium is Jan. 29 from 8 a.m.-noon, and includes a continental breakfast in the morning. To register, visit: registerCE.fgcu.edu.