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As human traffickers develop new techniques, so must those who try to stop them

  Melissa Wright of the Survive and Thrive Advocacy Center presents an award to Marsha Crowle of Capital City Bank
Dave Fiore
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Anna Ponder
Melissa Wright of the Survive and Thrive Advocacy Center presents an award to Marsha Crowle of Capital City Bank

For the past seven years, calls from Florida to the National Human Trafficking Hotline have increased. That has coincided with the state’s efforts to raise awareness and combat the issue. This week marked the end of National Human Trafficking Awareness Month.

Jamie Rosseland is a trafficking survivor who now works with anti-trafficking groups as a consultant and trainer. She says Florida is considered the state with the 3rd-highest number of calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

“So I think the reason we’re number 3 in the nation for reported cases is because we’re doing a good job at getting the word out,” Rosseland said. “And people are reporting it. And the more it’s reported, the better a chance we have at intervening.”

Rosseland tries to get the organizations she works with to let survivors be at the center of their service plans. That means paying more attention to the toll trafficking takes on people’s autonomy.

“That means someone was controlling every aspect of your life,” she said. “And so to get out of that situation and then work with service providers who -- very well-intentioned, you know, are trying to control every aspect of your life, that doesn’t do anything for the trauma recovery process. Recovering from trauma really is about finding that autonomy.”

In recent years, the state has pivoted in its approach to trafficking to do just that: Penalize the traffickers, not the survivors. Rosseland also says survivors should have a seat at the table in crafting a community response.

“Trafficking is such a complex issue, it really takes all of us. And so in the last few years, I’ve seen very few seats at the table for survivors,” Rosseland said. “A lot of times when I worked on projects, I’d be the only survivor in the room, which is really discouraging.”

Anything that makes people vulnerable can make them a target for traffickers: age, disability, immigration status, poverty or homelessness, living in the foster care system or the aftermath of a natural disaster. Robin Hassler Thompson is the executive director of STAC—the Survive and Thrive Advocacy Center in Tallahassee.

“It’s about people literally being targeted by a trafficker because they have a certain vulnerability that that trafficker will meet. And that is why everyone in the community has a role to play in ending trafficking. If you help someone to be less vulnerable by helping them to have a roof over their head or pay for their tuition or get health care for them, then you are doing anti-trafficking work.” 

STAC helps trafficking victims and survivors. The Center is one of the groups people are referred to locally when they call the National Human Trafficking Hotline. STAC also trains businesses on how to spot trafficking, such as the signs that one person is being controlled by another. Marsha Crowle is the director of corporate compliance for Capital City Bank. She made sure her tellers took the training -- and as a result, one of them spotted a red flag.

“And it alerted us to a possible human trafficking situation, and it was on such a level of concern, I reached out to law enforcement to alert them to the activity,” said Crowle.  

That’s where the bank’s involvement ended, Crowle says. The case involved a potential trafficker, not a victim.

STAC’s Garciela Marquina says traffickers are getting craftier, so the Center has to keep up, too.

“And then they perfection their techniques to groom people to get them to, attract them, to control them,” said Marquina. “We need to keep learning. We cannot stay in one place and say, ‘Hey, this is a training’ and that’s it. We need to keep learning from each other, from other states, from other countries…”

According to the Hotline, Florida referrals about sex trafficking still outpace labor as the primary form. But Hassler Thompson says half the people on STAC’s caseload are victims of labor trafficking. And she doesn’t see much distinction.

“Labor trafficking victims are often sexually abused, and sex trafficking victims are forced to commit acts of labor. It could be forced criminality like selling drugs or stealing or doing other things. That’s a form of their being labor-trafficked.” 

Since it began 8 years ago, STAC has trained 15,000 people in the region on how to spot trafficking and respond to it. For more information, go to news.wfsu.org.

You can reach the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-3737- 888. It’s 24/7 and multi-lingual.

You can reach STAC at 850 597-2080 and surviveandthriveadvocy.org, where you’ll find training and toolkit information.

And you can reach Jamie Rosseland at jamiefrosse@gmail.com.

Copyright 2023 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Margie Menzel
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