Guest commentary: Brenda Tate ... Combating human trafficing in Southwest Florida

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By Brenda Tate

Bonita Springs

President, The Women’s Fund of Southwest Florida

Dear “johns”:

Our girls are not for sale!

Be on notice that we will not tolerate rape and enslavement of our children and women.

Women and girls are the most vulnerable and frequent victims of the heinous crime known as human trafficking, which almost always involves commercial sexual exploitation.

A pimp can earn 20 times what he or she paid for a girl, and slaves are cheap these days. Our “johns” pay the going rates and keep the pimps in business.

To be sure, other crimes featuring weapons and drugs are involved, and men and boys are also victims of modern slavery, but women and girls are significantly represented globally.

The Women’s Fund of Southwest Florida is working with our region’s Human Trafficking Task Force and Florida Gulf Coast University to coordinate the work of law, order and victim support associated with modern slavery. We have every reason to be proud of the stand our human trafficking agencies and organizations have taken over the years to combat this crime and support the victims. But, because this crime does not respect local, state, national or international boundaries, it is important to establish a regional resource center to better position our region’s efforts, including investigation and prosecution of the criminals and support of the victims.

Plus, essential data of all cases in our region will be tracked and analyzed to help our region’s professionals reduce the incidence of one of the greatest human rights challenges of the century.

The victims of this crime suffer unimaginable consequences. Women and girls have unwanted pregnancies, contract HIV-AIDS, become drug-addicted, endure physical and psychological violence, and sometimes die. Because resources to treat victims are scarce, restored physical and mental health is rare and the rate of victims returning to their captors is high. This makes human trafficking a significant public health issue.

We must work to dry up the supply (pimps) and demand (johns) to keep our most vulnerable men, women and children out of this criminal cycle.

The recent horrifying news that almost half the pimps arrested in the nationwide Operation Cross County focused on the sexual exploitation of children are from Florida should shock us all into action. Some of the pimps were found hiding out in Southwest Florida.

We applaud Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and leaders in the Florida Legislature for passing laws to make penalties much harsher and provide safe harbor for victims.

So, “Dear john,” be a real man and think twice before you set out to buy sex from a girl.

For more information on how to help establish the Southwest Florida Regional Human Trafficking Resource Center, please contact The Women’s Fund of Southwest Florida at contact@womensfundflorida.org or visit the website at www.womensfundflorida.org/programs.

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