Human Trafficking Awareness Month Seeks an End to Slavery in Florida and the World

shutterstock_244521088Although slavery was outlawed in the United States in 1865, it is estimated that there are approximately 21 – 30 million people in slavery in the world today, a number that may be higher than any time in history. Worldwide, about 78 percent of these are victims of labor slavery while 22 percent are victims of sex slavery. And of those in slavery, 26 percent are children under the age of 18, according to In the United States, however, Florida ranks third in the nation for reported cases of human trafficking, where 41 percent of those cases are sex trafficking of women involved in pimp controlled prostitution, brothels and escort services. A number of organizations are working diligently to bring this information to the forefront during National Human Trafficking Awareness Month in January and to promote initiatives that will abolish this oppression.

“This modern-day slavery occurs in countries throughout the world and in communities across our nation. These victims face a cruelty that has no place in a civilized world: children are made to be soldiers, teenage girls are beaten and forced into prostitution, and migrants are exploited and compelled to work for little or no pay. It is a crime that can take many forms and one that tears at our social fabric, debases our common humanity and violates what we stand for as a country and a people,” said President Barack Obama in a proclamation last year.


Fighting Human Trafficking in South Florida

On the national level, there are those working to combat human trafficking by prosecuting perpetrators, educating healthcare and other professionals to better identify and aid victims and helping victims to recover and rebuild their lives. But the battle is also being fought right here in South Florida.

Heider Schaeffer, vice president of the Human Trafficking Coalition of the Palm Beaches and communications specialist for the Broward Human Trafficking Coalition, said “A lot of the municipalities are waking up and saying not in my backyard.” For example, the Mayor of Boca Raton signed a proclamation opposing human trafficking in December and the City of Hollywood is scheduled to make a similar proclamation on January 20. In addition, Schaeffer said “We just got word that the Superintendent of Schools is sending a bulletin to principals in Palm Beach County to create more awareness. We want to get the word out that no one is exempt. Every child is vulnerable to human trafficking. There is no one victim and no one perpetrator.”

However Schaeffer said a history of sexual abuse is often a precursor.  That’s why she is also involved in the Kid Safe Foundation, an organization that focuses on the prevention of child sexual abuse. She emphasized that it is important to educate younger kids and to protect foster children. “Often waiting till Middle School to educate children is too late,” said Schaeffer.


Hepzibah House brings healing

Becky Dymond, founder and president of Hepzibah House and a licensed medical health counselor, is well acquainted with the heartache associated with sex trafficking. Hepzibah House is in the business of recovery, restoration and release from the nightmare of human trafficking. They recently opened a safe house and residential treatment facility for women who have been freed from human trafficking. (

Guiding women to recognize their beauty and worth, Hepzibah House provides resources for healing physical, spiritual, emotional and mental needs. They also operate micro-businesses to provide productive activities building life and job skills for Hepzibah House women, ultimately providing career counseling, educational opportunities and job placement.


Their newest micro-business is Zibah Treats, organic non-GMO animal treats that are baked and sold by women involved in the program. “Through their experience operating Zibah Treats, the women develop job skills that can be promoted on a resume and learn to work together as a team. It’s super practical,” said Dymond.


Facts about the sex trade

She also dedicates her time to raise awareness of modern-day slavery to prevent youth and other vulnerable populations from being tricked, trapped and exploited.

According to Becky, there are more than 5,000 people estimated to be caught in slavery in Palm Beach Country alone. This includes both sex and labor trafficking.

And it is big money. Commercial sexual exploitation in Miami alone was valued at more than $235 million in 2007, according to “The Hustle: Economics of the Underground Commercial Sex Industry.”

Most of the victims are recruited from social venues such as neighborhoods, clubs, bars, the internet, outdoor tracks, schools, malls and transit stations. Young white women are preferred by predators because they are easier to control and manipulate, blend into a variety of environments and are most sought after by buyers. And young women who are most vulnerable include victims of molestation or rape, those who have experienced trauma and those with low self esteem or who have been raised in an environment of shame-based parenting.

According to Dymond, pimps use a variety of psychological methods to manipulate and control their victims including glamorizing their lifestyle by flashing money around, entering into romantic relationships, seduction, violence, addictions and entrapment.

The sad truth is that the average entry age into sex trafficking is 13 years old and the average life expectancy for a young woman in that industry is only seven years. Ninety percent are controlled by pimps, gangs or mafia and less than one percent are rescued.

With the knowledge that Florida is 3rd in the National for sex trafficking, how should we respond?


Here are 10 things you can do

  1. Pray
  2. Educate yourself, family and friends
  3. Voice your concerns at work, school, on social media, in editorials, and with state and local officials
  4. Volunteer
  5. Organize a fundraiser and donate funds
  6. Join groups working to end slavery
  7. Learn the red flags
  8. Host an awareness event such as a movie night or documentary on trafficking
  9. Protect by prevention
  10. Be a conscientious consumer, visit to learn more.


Local events in January

There are also a number of local events being held during Human Trafficking Awareness Month in which you can participate.

On January 2nd, the Broward Human Trafficking Coalition is hosting a special film screening of the groundbreaking documentary “TRICKED” followed by a panel discussion by human trafficking experts  from 11 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. at the African-American Research Library, 2650 Sistrunk Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. While the movie is for mature audiences because of its intensity, many feel it is an important and necessary in raising awareness to sex trafficking in our area. “One needn’t look to the developing world for horrid stories of children being dragged into sexual slavery by heartless pimps and madams. It is happening right here in the U.S. under our noses and TRICKED is just the film to help us begin the work of ending this horrid form of torture once and for all,” according to Abigail Disney, documentary filmmaker.

Cost for the movie screening is $10 and tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance with all proceeds benefiting the Broward Human Trafficking Coalition.

On the campus of Nova Southeastern University (NSU) in Davie, CREATE, the Coalition for Research and Education Against Trafficking and Exploitation will offer a class on January 22  for physician assistants (earning 3 CME credits) to discuss the prevalence of human trafficking in the USA and Florida and discuss the role physician assistant can play in identifying and rescuing victims.

A Human Trafficking Awareness Event will also be held on January 13 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. with a speaker at Knight’s Auditorium at Nova Southeastern University in Davie sponsored by the Multicultural Association for Pre-Health Students. For more information, email [email protected].

In Palm Beach County, advocates can attend an event called Combat Human Trafficking: Florida Today to encourage awareness of new anti-trafficking laws in Florida on January 7 at Atlantic Country Club, 190 Atlantis Boulevard, Lake Worth. New National Human Trafficking Hotline legislation will go into effect on January 1 requiring the posting of the hotline number1-888-3737-888 ( in key transportation spots (on the highways, airports, railway stations, etc) in hospital emergency rooms, in strip clubs and certain massage parlors throughout the state. And this event is designed to create awareness about this and other laws, to push for the full implementation across the state and to highlight further actions and legislations that may be needed to end sex and labor trafficking in Florida. To register, visit

A Stop Trafficking Event is also being sponsored by the Soroptimist International of the Palm Beaches on January 13 from 6 – 8 p.m. featuring speakers from The Palm Beach County Human Trafficking Coalition at the Palm Springs Public Library, 217 Cypress Lane, Palm Springs. Call 561-798-2318 for information. Visit for more information. For more articles by Shelly Pond, please visit


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