Human trafficking an ugly epidemic, here and worldwide
The statistics are both shocking and sobering, and by the end of Nola Theiss’s seminar last Thursday, entitled “Child Sex Trafficking,” more and more islanders became aware of how widespread – and how close to Sanibel – this injustice has reached.
According to Theiss, human trafficking is the equivalent of modern day slavery.
“The two most common kinds of slavery involve forced commercial sex or forced labor,” she explained. “It is usually a hidden crime and victims rarely escape or go to law enforcement for help. They are dependent on others to help them.”
Theiss, former mayor and city council member on Sanibel, is the founding member of the Lee County Human Trafficking Awareness Task Force and executive director of Human Trafficking Awareness Partnerships, Inc.
“The status of women and human trafficking are so inter-related,” she said. “Slavery is not a metaphor – it is a reality.”
During the 90-minute presentation at BIG Arts on Jan. 21, Theiss detailed several of the uglier statistics related to the human trafficking epidemic:
Eighty percent of the victims are women, with more than 50 percent of those children.
An estimated 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year, not including millions who are traded within their own country.
Internationally, there are an estimated 27 million human slaves.
Eighty-three percent of all human trafficking cases are sex-related.
Human trafficking generates approximately $32 billion annually worldwide, making it one of the top three international crimes (behind only drug and gun trafficking).
Only 1 percent of human trafficking cases are solved.
During her lecture, Theiss recalled a meeting several years ago with Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott, where she mentioned the idea of creating a Human Trafficking Awareness Task Force. The group met for the first time in April of 2005. Three weeks later, their investigation led to the arrest of four adults in Cape Coral who had trafficked a teenage girl from Guatemala.
Theiss also explained what factors would be present in a community that is vulnerable to human trafficking. They include being located adjacent to or near an interstate highway, a shoreline or port area, international airport or agricultural community. Those communities would also include many immigrants or unskilled laborers, have a large service-related industry and a wide spectrum of wealth and poverty.
“Sounds a lot like Lee County, doesn’t it?” she asked the crowd of about 40 attendees, noting that earlier last week a human trafficking case led to the arrest of a man and a woman at the LaQuinta Hotel on Summerlin Road in South Fort Myers. “If you think that it can’t happen on Sanibel… is this close enough?”
She also said that the Human Trafficking Awareness Task Force tracks approximately 15 active prostitution rings in Lee County.
“Why do we need to be involved? It’s a human rights issue,” Theiss said. “It is morally wrong to accept the existence of slavery in the United States. Once you know about it, it cannot be ignored.”
For additional information, visit www.humantraffickingawareness.org.