Monday, May 21, 2018
Public safety

Judges, law enforcement, service providers speak out against human trafficking in Tampa Bay

TAMPA — People thought South Africa native Natasha Nascimento was crazy when she said in 2010 that she wanted to open a home for human trafficking victims in the Tampa Bay area.

"They thought I was a foreign girl talking about a foreign problem," said Nascimento, whose home, Redefining Refuge, is set to open next month.

People didn't know Florida ranks behind just California and Texas in most human trafficking reported.

They didn't know the average age of a child sex-trafficking victim is 12.

They didn't know 51 child sex-trafficking victims were rescued here in 2010-2011 by the FBI.

But they are starting to learn.

Wednesday morning, more than 350 people gathered at Stetson University College of Law's Tampa Law Center to listen as panels of judges, prosecutors, law enforcement and service providers discussed human trafficking in Tampa Bay.

"Although many people may have heard the term human trafficking, they may not have fully comprehended how pervasive it is, and what significant needs there are, how difficult it is to combat human trafficking and how massive it is," said Pasco Circuit Judge Lynn Tepper, a panelist. "People get the international part, but whenever you talk about domestic, they glaze over. I don't know why that is."

Because many people are unaware of the prevalence of human trafficking in the United States and Tampa Bay, it can be difficult to prosecute cases, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Rex Martin Barbas said.

"I think jurors just don't believe a lot of these people," he said. "I think society has a hard time understanding this type of slavery, I really do. I think that's one of the reasons we have such a difficult time with prosecutions.

All involved advocated the same message: Be aware, know what the indicators are and tell others.

"This is happening right in our back yard," said Stephanie Wiendl, president of the Junior League of Tampa, host of the event. "People need to learn the indicators and know what to look for."

Those indicators include bruises and depression, being accompanied by a controlling person, not being able to speak on his or her own behalf and being unable to contact family members or attend religious services and other social events.

Wednesday's program also touched on specific bills before the Florida Legislature, including restrictions on massage parlors and protections in court for minor victims.

Laura Hamilton, founder and president of Bridging Freedom, a nonprofit organization which hopes to build a therapeutic safe home for victims, said it is important to have safe, secure facilities to house victims who have been rescued.

Many organizations, such as Bridging Freedom and Redefining Refuge, hope to provide that. Until then, existing places such as Joshua House have taken on the challenge of caring for these kids until other homes are created.

"People want to do something, they just don't know what to do," Hamilton said. "People can fundraise, they can spread awareness, they can donate. We just need boots on the ground."

Caitlin Johnston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2443.

 
Comments
Lava from Kilauea volcano enters ocean, creates toxic cloud

Lava from Kilauea volcano enters ocean, creates toxic cloud

PAHOA, Hawaii — White plumes of acid and extremely fine shards of glass billowed into the sky over Hawaii as molten rock from Kilauea volcano poured into the ocean, creating yet another hazard from an eruption that began more than two weeks ago. Auth...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Traffic lights restored at Pinellas Park intersection

Traffic lights restored at Pinellas Park intersection

PINELLAS PARK — Traffic lights have been restored at the intersection of 66th Street N and Park Boulevard, police said. About 5:45 p.m., Pinellas Park Police announced the outage. 
Updated: 5 hours ago
Family, friends recall shooting victims’ optimism, humor

Family, friends recall shooting victims’ optimism, humor

SANTA FE, Texas — A 17-year-old student looking forward to celebrating his family's new swimming pool and a substitute teacher whose home frequently hosted family gatherings were among the 10 people killed in a mass shooting at a Texas high sch...
Published: 05/20/18
Burglary suspect jumps into Hillsborough canal to escape deputies, officials say

Burglary suspect jumps into Hillsborough canal to escape deputies, officials say

TAMPA — After a botched burglary, a fleeing suspect jumped into a canal to escape deputies Saturday afternoon, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.The person has not yet been identified. The suspect tried to break into a business on...
Published: 05/19/18
Cuba: 110 died in plane crash, 3 survivors ‘critical’

Cuba: 110 died in plane crash, 3 survivors ‘critical’

HAVANA — The only three survivors of Cuba’s worst aviation disaster in three decades were clinging to life Saturday, a day after their passenger jet crashed in a fireball in Havana’s rural outskirts with 113 people on board. In the first official dea...
Published: 05/19/18
He lured young men looking for weed. Their bodies turned up in a pig roaster.

He lured young men looking for weed. Their bodies turned up in a pig roaster.

Cosmo DiNardo declared "I am a savage no explanation needed" on social media seven months before police say he lured four young men to his family’s farm, shot them to death, ran one of them over with a backhoe and dumped three of their bodies in a pi...
Published: 05/19/18
Off-duty Largo firefighter arrested on DUI charge

Off-duty Largo firefighter arrested on DUI charge

DUNEDIN — Pinellas County sheriff’s deputies arrested an off-duty Largo firefighter found asleep at the wheel shortly after 4 a.m. Saturday.Patrol deputies saw a 2013 Dodge Dart, facing west and stopped in the intersection of Main Street and Bass Bou...
Published: 05/19/18
After Texas school shooting, Tampa Bay officials will step up security

After Texas school shooting, Tampa Bay officials will step up security

Hours after Friday’s deadly school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, bay area law enforcement officials pledged to beef up school security for the last remaining days of the school year.Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister held a news conference late Frid...
Published: 05/18/18
Largo police seek person of interest linked to missing man

Largo police seek person of interest linked to missing man

LARGO — Police are searching for a person of interest in the January disappearance of a 24-year-old man.The missing man is Timothy Patrick Cullen, 24, who Largo police said was last seen Jan. 22 at his home in the 500 block of Seventh Ave NE. His veh...
Published: 05/18/18
Pasco man accused of abusing 3-month-old infant

Pasco man accused of abusing 3-month-old infant

BAYONET POINT — A 26-year-old man was arrested Thursday on a charge of aggravated child abuse and accused of fracturing an infant’s skull, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.Brandon Scott Madrishin told deputies that a 3-month-old infant ...
Published: 05/18/18