Most victims of human trafficking include individuals who are recruited for purposes of labor or sex trafficking. Tampa Bay has the ignominious distinction of being ranked number two in Florida for sex trafficking destinations. Sex trafficking most clearly makes its presence known through prostitution.
Through her work with World Relief Tampa, Jennifer Marks strives to change this. “Its sole purpose is to provide victim services to those rescued from human trafficking locally,” she explained. Most troubling, is whom the criminals target. “Seventy percent of victims are straight out of foster care system,” she said. “We know that sex traffickers are targeting our foster care kids.”
Marks added that 12-14 is average ages of kids who are coerced into pornography and prostitution. “That child, once they’ve gotten lured, has only life span of 7 to 10 years.” Educating our own kids is key to reducing human trafficking. Traffickers look for victims on college campus and malls, where parents, incredibly, drop off children as young as 7 and 8 to wander alone. They look for girls in middle and high school who appear insecure. It’s important for parents to keep this in mind. “Every young girl that age is insecure,” observed Marks. “It’s programmed in. It’s part of the age.”
The key is talking to your kids. Both boys and girls – even in stable homes – need to know that there are always alternatives to running away. “They need to understand what’s on the other side.”
Marks encourages parents to discuss alternative strategies with their children – and encourage their kids to share them with friends who may come from very chaotic or abusive homes. Girls in middle school and high school also need to learn about the dangers of attention from older men. Sex traffickers, moreover, congregate where kids do. “That’s why it’s so important for parents to be engaged with their kids and their online activity.” She encourages parents to monitor who their kids play with on Xbox and discourages Facebook, Instagram and other social media. Marks also said that Americans can do more to reduce labor trafficking.
With Marks’ help, everyone in Tampa Bay can help built a safer, more just world.
Learn more at Chris Barrett’s World of Westchase article: Working to End Human Trafficking.