For Lisa Newman, the fight against child sex trafficking in Tampa Bay is more than a bandwagon issue.
In 2011, Newman says, a camp counselor took her son, then 5, to a home where men photographed and sexually abused boys. She knows this because, after weeks of torment, her son stopped eating and speaking. He told his parents what happened during those hours when, for seven weeks, they trusted a Brandon area summer day program.
"This perpetrator manipulated our son from favor to fear," Newman said. "We had no idea the darkness we would be walking into as the story began to unfold."
Newman's older son, Caleb, a 17-year-old quarterback at Seffner Christian Academy, will tell his family's story Jan. 11 at Freedom at the Cross, a men's conference at Bridgeway Church in Wesley Chapel.
The program, presented by the local nonprofit Two Boards and Three Nails, will feature guest speakers and live music, including a performance by American Idol finalist and Valrico resident Jeremy Rosado. State Rep. Ross Spano and Nick Canuso, an ambassador for Florida Abolitionist, a nonprofit organization that focuses on ending modern-day slavery, will deliver comments along with Dan and Maria Silva, founders of Two Boards.
The group will address what sex trafficking looks like in Tampa Bay, how it affects men, and what men can do to help end it.
"The many faces of human trafficking blend into the community," Maria Silva said. "There are doctors, teachers and people in other prominent jobs fueling the supply and demand. There are recruiters positioned in the schools. This is happening all around us, and many people don't realize it."
According to antitrafficking agencies, Florida is ranked third in the country for human trafficking activity, which includes forced labor. In the United States, the average age of a sex trafficking victim is 12.
Silva said traffickers use fear to keep teens and children quiet.
"They say if you try something we will kill your parents or we know where you live, so the kids don't say anything," Silva said. "And if they do, because of the way legislation is set up, it can be hard to prosecute."
In the Newman case, no arrests have been made. Newman says the counselor, or "coach," as her son called him, was fired but never prosecuted. When she dropped her boys off at the camp — she didn't divulge the name for legal reasons — the man reminded her of a "fun-loving grandpa," she says. She did not suspect anything.
For an act to be considered sex trafficking, the victim must be forced into activity for commercial sex purposes. In the Newman case, the family contends that the boy was transported to a home during camp hours where child pornography was produced to sell.
In Florida, sex trafficking victims must disclose their stories in private forensic interviews. Newman's son has spoken only to the family.
"A mother or parent is not allowed to be with the child during disclosure, and in our case, even after three months of working through therapy with pictures and recorded conversations, a mother's voice couldn't count as evidence," Newman said. "My son's pictures and voice recordings do not count as evidence."
Silva said the Freedom at the Cross conference on Jan. 11 will focus on the demand side of sex trafficking. Topics will include pornography, prostitution and related legislation. Men who attend will hear real stories and, organizers hope, be prompted to action.
"It starts with prevention and educating the adults to stop the demand," Newman said. "If we can educate the community, then we can rescue more children and prevent more trauma."
Sarah Whitman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
. IF YOU GO
Two Boards and Three Nails, a Tampa Bay area nonprofit organization fighting human trafficking, will present Freedom at the Cross, a men's conference, from 1 to 7 p.m. Jan. 11 at Bridgeway Church, 30660 Wells Road, Wesley Chapel. The conference will define human trafficking and the role men can play in combating the problem. Admission is free. Donations are appreciated. For information visit 2b3n.com.
The Abolish Movement
January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month. The Abolish Movement, a community campaign against human trafficking in Tampa Bay, will stage events to coincide with the event.
Training to fight commercial sexual exploitation of children
8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Jan. 10, Stetson University Tampa Law Center, 1700 N Tampa St. A three-part series promotes awareness and education. The event will include a resource fair, videos, quotes, case studies, and real-life accounts of the experiences of sexually exploited youth. Registration required. Contact Shannon Martucci at email@example.com or (813) 272-6272.
'Abduction of Eden'
1 to 3 p.m. Jan. 10, Sun City Center Atrium Building, Florida Room, 945 N Course Lane. Free popcorn and screening of Abduction of Eden, starring Jamie Chung and Beau Bridges.
Freedom at the Cross conference
1 to 7 p.m. Jan. 11, Bridgeway Church, 30660 Wells Road, Wesley Chapel. This men-only conference is designed to help men understand the many faces of human trafficking and the pivotal role they can play in combating it. Registration required at 2b3n.com.
Abolish Movement kickoff rally
4 to 7 p.m. Jan. 11, Lykes Gaslight Square Park, 410 N Franklin St. This event unites the 90-plus organizations working to combat child sex trafficking and features live entertainment, food trucks and a candlelight vigil in partnership with the Community Campaign Against Human Trafficking.
'Too Close to Home'
WEDU's documentary about Tampa Bay's human trafficking crisis will be shown at 2 p.m. Jan. 12 at the Ruskin Firehouse Cultural Center, 101 First Ave. NE; 6:30 p.m. Jan. 14 at the Palladium Theater, 253 Fifth Ave. N, St. Petersburg;
7 to 8:30 p.m. Jan. 12, Generations Christian Church, 1540 Little Road, Trinity. This documentary features two girls who were manipulated, isolated and "chosen" for sex trafficking. Informative for parents and students.
Awareness for mall security and management
9 to 11 a.m. Jan. 16, Wiregrass Mall, 28211 Paseo Drive, Suite 100, Wesley Chapel. World Relief organizes and leads volunteers to train mall employees how to recognize sex trafficking and take action. To volunteer, contact Jennifer Marks at JMarks@wr.org.
Cocktails for a Cause — For Her
5-7 p.m. Jan. 16, Hillsborough County Bar Association, Cohen Hall, 1610 N Tampa St., Tampa. The gathering benefits Bridging Freedom's quest to establish a long-term therapeutic safe home for rescued children. Tickets $25 through Jan. 5, $30 after. Go to eventbrite.com and search for event. Also $30 at the door. Bridging Freedom's website is bridgingfreedom.org.
Save Our Children From Being Chosen by Sex Traffickers
7 p.m. Jan. 16, Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 N McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater. View the documentary Chosen and hear a law enforcement panel discuss area cases and give tips to protect children. Hosted by the Zonta Club of Pinellas.
Change the World Day
10 a.m. to noon Jan. 18, Sun City United Methodist Church, 1210 Del Webb Blvd. W. This is a seminar about keeping children and young adults safe from human trafficking.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: The documentary Too Close To Home will only be screened twice in Hillsborough County during Human Trafficking Awareness Month. A previous listing included incorrect dates, times and locations for screenings.