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Human trafficking class raises awareness in young island girls

By Staff | Aug 12, 2011

The border of this painting depicts the endless footsteps of children who run away. The "Hand of Trafficking" crushes the bright future of those it has entrapped. The victims are male and female of all ethnic and national backgrounds.

Human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery. It involves the illegal trade of humans for the following purposes:

o Bonded labor Least known form of trafficking, but most widely used method of enslaving people.

o Forced labor Victims are forced to work against their will under the threat of violence. Men have the highest risk of being trafficked for unskilled work.

o Sex trafficking Victims are usually found in dire circumstances and easily targeted by traffickers, such as the homeless, runaway teens, displaced homemakers, refugees and drug addicts

Since 2005, a human trafficking task force has been operated under auspices of the Lee County Sheriff’s office. The number of cases, especially involving young American girls in sex trafficking, it’s seen has grown in Southwest Florida. After the task force’s first meeting, a 13-year-old victim was identified and four traffickers were arrested.

Photo by SHANNEN HAYES "Blink of an Eye" represents how quickly one can go from life as an American teenager to a world of terror. The money on the border represents the profit traffickers can make on a victim and the silhouette represents how valueless her life is except as a commodity. The glittery eyelid represents false glamour and the illusion of the traffickers’ promises. Keep your eyes open and you may be able to keep yourself safe.

“One percent of all girls are abducted,” Nola Theiss, executive director of Human Trafficking Awareness Partnerships, said about how young girls end up in sex trafficking. “Thirty percent get involved through friends or family with the remaining 69 percent being conned, usually by a male.”

To launch local warfare on the billion-dollar-a-year industry, a Sanibel-based non-profit group named Human Trafficking Awareness Partnerships has been offering ARTREACH programs since last year. Using art as a means to educate young girls about the dangers of trafficking, paintings are created during the four 4-hour sessions.

“You must have an interest in art,” said Theiss. “But you don’t have to be talented to participate. We really just want them to know (human trafficking) effects people like them, from all backgrounds.”

While Thailand and Brazil are considered as holding the worst child sex trafficking records, the United States reported more than 1,000 human trafficking incidents in 2007-08. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 83 percent of those reports involved sex trafficking.

The goal of the ARTREACH program is prevention, but first is awareness. Sanibel middle and high school girls will learn about human trafficking and use art as a means to teach others about this repulsive enterprise. Theiss, one of the primary instructors, will discuss how much the girls know about the topic and their risk factor — simply their age.

“We first asked ourselves ‘is it happening in Florida,'” said Theiss about starting HTAP. “And ‘what can we do to help.”

Theiss said as a mother of two daughters and former teacher, this subject has really hit home and she realized Sanibel is not exempt from human trafficking issues. She is really glad ARTREACH is being offered on Sanibel.

“We must take care of family,” she added.

All middle and high school girls are invited to participate in the ARTREACH classes, which will take place from 3 to 7 p.m. Aug. 22, 29 and Sept. 12, 19 at BIG Arts no class on Labor Day. Gari Lewis will be the art instructor during the program. In addition, there will be guest speakers, along with other art instructors and volunteers who have been active in the Lee County Sheriff’s Human Trafficking Task Force, which was first organized by Sheriff Mike Scott.

Information about the class is available through Sanibel School and the Sanibel Recreation Center and is posted at ww.humantraffickingawareness.org or by calling Theiss at 292-3834. Transportation to BIG Arts can bee arranged after school. Enrollment is limited to 12 girls on the first-sign-up basis.

“A program for boys is currently under development,” said Theiss.

There are no fees for this class, which is supported by the Zonta Club of Sanibel-Captiva, BIG Arts and the generosity of local restaurants.