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Shedding light on dark world of human trafficking

By Staff | Feb 3, 2015

Nola Theiss held a presentation about human trafficking and the reality of it in Southwest Florida. Theiss, who is the Executive Director of the Human Trafficking Awareness Partnerships, spoke at the Captiva Library Wednesday, Jan. 28, for the library’s Afternoon Sojourn series speakers. BRIAN WIERIMA

There is a dark underbelly of society which can be present in any community in the world. It’s one which is often under-reported by its victims and hard to prove in a court of law.

But light is being shed on the dark and dirty world of human trafficking by people such as Sanibel’s Nola Theiss, who is the founder and Executive Director of the Human Trafficking Awareness Partnerships Inc. or otherwise known at HTAP.

Theiss was featured in Wednesday’s (Jan. 28) Captiva Memorial Library’s Afternoon Sojourn presentation. A short documentary entitled Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide was shown and discussed by Theiss after it was finished.

Theiss used the analogy of walking through a meadow of long grass to describe what is needed to keep human trafficking in the spotlight, thus enabling the necessary help to the young people who are negatively affected.

She said it takes more than a few people to walk through a meadow to create a path. Instead it takes many to follow the first to create that path.

“It takes a whole lot of individual walkers to make a path and a difference,” Theiss added.

The Half the Sky movement was started by Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for the New York Times and his wife Sheryl WuDunn, the first Asian-American reporter to win a Pulitzer Prize.

The documentary featured women from around the world and the major and extreme unfortunate circumstances they face daily, which involved human sex trafficking and abuse.

In Somaliland, one in 12 women die during obstructed labor while giving birth. The documentary stated that a Somalian woman gives birth to eight to 10 babies in her lifetime, much of the time, impregnated by force or rape.

Overall, more than one million kids are exploited in sex trafficking worldwide.

In Thailand, a 13-year-old girl who was forced into sex trafficking, was forced to see 10-13 clients a day. The young girl in the documentary, eventually got out of the sex slavery world, but not before her captors shot her eye out and aborted her baby. Her family rejected her because of what she was forced to do, but she was able to overcome the travesties of her life and now is helping other young girls avoid that kind of future.

It was also stated that India is also known to have the most brutal brothels in the world, with the girls being murdered if they are uncooperative.

After the documentary, Theiss said human trafficking is prevalent in the Southwest Florida area. It’s a problem which is being addressed by HTAP with the help of educating young kids as young as eight to nine years old.

Theiss described a vicious cycle these young girls end up grinding through.

“They end up running away because of a situation at home or there’s some type of abuse in the home,” Theiss said. “These are girls usually ages 11 to 15 years old and they are vulnerable, very vulnerable. They end up giving it away because that’s what they think will get them love. They do things they normally would not do because they think they are in love or are desperate.

“Two out of three runaways will be approached for sex, on average, in the first two days after she runs away. It’s the people who promise them a safe place to stay, who are the ones preying on them and it can happen anywhere.”

Shame is a common feeling for the young girl, who at this stage is desperate because usually there is no money or even a place to stay. That’s when the predator takes advantage of the situation.

“One in seven runaways become victims of trafficking,” Theiss said. “Human trafficking has always been out there, because it’s such a profitable business.”

Theiss added the life span of a girl who is stuck in the sex trafficking world is seven years – due to disease, drug use and abuse.

There is a group collaboration in Lee County in which HTAP is a part of, entitled Point of Contact, Point of Rescue.

HTAP administers the program and trainings are conducted by the program partners.

It is offered to community professionals who are potentially in contact with trafficking victims. Participants learn the common signs of human trafficking and are provided with a reporting protocol.

HTAP also offers preventive programs, including Trafficking Interactive Prevention Simulation (TIPS).

TIPS is a safe and controlled environment simulation for youths ages 10-18. It enacts scenarios which eventually lead to being a victim of human trafficking.

Theiss also noted some of the preventive and punitive laws which have been enacted by the state of Florida, which is one of the leading states addressing human trafficking.

To learn more or to donate or volunteer at HTAP, visit their website at www.humantraffickingawareness.org.