At Born2Fly, our goal is to reach kids before the traffickers do—not just around the world, but around the corner, too.
That’s why B2F is a charter member of the new Greater Orlando Human Trafficking Task Force (GOHTTF). At a news conference this morning in the hot Florida sun, we stood arm-to-arm with a coalition of law enforcement from all levels (local, state, and national), government agencies, service providers, the faith community, and non-profits.
That’s me on the far right with my anti-trafficking colleagues. What I love about this group is the sense of partnership and our focus on working together to rid our community of human trafficking.
These are professionals who already excel in their fields -- law enforcement, therapists, attorneys, safe houses, non-profits such as Born2Fly, and many others. What you see in this photo is the tip of the iceberg. Through GOHTTF, we are maximizing our efforts in a united front. I'm honored to partner with them.
#3 in the nation
Florida is #3 in the nation in the number of cases reported to the Polaris Project's national anti-trafficking hotline. (That doesn’t mean the state is #3 in trafficking, just in reporting.)
According to Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, who kicked off the news conference, in the past 18 months, 125 adults and children have been victims of human trafficking in Orange, Osceola, and Seminole counties.
Keep in mind that Osceola County is home to Disney World, where families bring their children for fun and entertainment. A few miles away from Disney’s gates, children are being trafficked.
You will remember my report about an undercover child trafficking operation I was part of in Orlando — also a few miles from Disney’s gates.
“We have to be proactive to ensure that [trafficking] does not proliferate in this community,” Demings emphasized, which is the goal of the new task force.
Larry Zweig, director of the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation (MBI), also spoke at the news conference and said that the number of tips and complaints to MBI has increased “significantly” in past years.
As a result, Zweig announced, MBI is expanding its vice unit from 4 agents to 7 who will focus on human trafficking. The FBI, ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement), and Florida Department of Law Enforcement are all also assigning full-time staff to the task force.
“This will significantly increase our ability to investigate these tips that are coming in regularly now,” Zweig said.
Florida is a "safe harbor" state, meaning that children rescued from prostitution are treated as victims, not as criminal. By law they get help from child welfare professionals instead of being placed in juvenile delinquency. William D'Aiuto, central Florida director of the state's Department of Children and Families, reiterated his agency's commitment to helping these children.
Creating a network of services
As you can see, services to rescue victims, bring traffickers and buyers to justice, reduce demand, and prevent trafficking in the first place are not centered in one agency or organization but spread out among many.
“There’s a great need for a collaboration of services," added Tomas Lares, chairman of GOHTTF, "and that's exactly what this group intends to do by bringing together more than a dozen subcommittees on a variety of topics ranging from law enforcement to legal aid to housing.”
Born2Fly is a member of 2 of those subcommittees. And as a result of being part of GOHTTF, we’re also getting strategic input as we develop additional curriculum and other materials designed to reach kids before the traffickers do — in Orlando and all over the world.
If human trafficking is organized crime — which it is — we have to be even more organized than the traffickers are to fight it.
In Orlando, we now are.