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Hillsborough focuses on human trafficking before Super Bowl 55

Officials are making sure sexually-oriented businesses display signs that tell human trafficking victims how to get help.
Billboards are part of the public awareness campaign from the Hillsborough County Commission on human trafficking. The campaign, devised by FKQ Marketing, runs through June 2021 with an emphasis on activity during the upcoming Super Bowl.
Billboards are part of the public awareness campaign from the Hillsborough County Commission on human trafficking. The campaign, devised by FKQ Marketing, runs through June 2021 with an emphasis on activity during the upcoming Super Bowl. [ FKQ Marketing ]
Published Feb. 2

TAMPA — Hillsborough County has added “signs up” to its “masks on” code enforcement mission ahead of Super Bowl 55.

Last week, officers from county code enforcement, the Tampa Police Department and the city’s Neighborhood Enforcement Division visited three dozen adult businesses to ensure compliance with the Hillsborough County human trafficking ordinance.

That ordinance requires strip clubs, adult bookstores and theaters and other sexually oriented businesses to post signs providing information — in multiple languages — about how victims of human trafficking can get help.

Officers issued citations to two businesses Teasers and the Pink Pussycat, both on N Nebraska Avenue, that were accused of violating the human trafficking ordinance. The citations carry fines of up to $265.

Related: How Tampa strip clubs are preparing for a pandemic Super Bowl

The enforcement is scheduled to continue this week and follows on the heels of officials visiting more than 2,000 establishments to ensure they’re following the county’s mandate for employees and customers to wear face masks indoors when social distancing isn’t possible.

The code enforcement visits are part of the stepped-up effort to increase awareness of human trafficking in the lead up to Super Bowl 55 on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.

Over the past two months:

  • Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister announced the arrest of 71 men on prostitution-related chargers after a month-long undercover sting.
  • The Department of Justice reported the indictment of David Alan Quarles, 49, of Odessa, on charges of conspiracy; sex trafficking by force, threats, fraud, or coercion and other counts after he was accused of forcing children and foreign nationals to engage in prostitution. The indictment listed eight victims dating between 2016 and August 2019.
  • The county ramped up an advertising and promotional blitz about the dangers of human trafficking. “Don’t buy it, Tampa Bay.” is to be featured on billboards, social media, print advertisements and Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority buses. The campaign began in November and continues through June, but the early, heavy push coincides with the build up to the Super Bowl.
Related: Hillsborough begins human trafficking awareness blitz

Though human trafficking awareness is tied to the NFL championship game and the anticipated influx of out-of-town visitors, officials acknowledge it’s not a one-week-only phenomenon in the Tampa Bay region.

“This just isn’t something that’s going to happen only on Feb. 7, unfortunately,” said Clara Reynolds, CEO of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.

“It happens year round,” said Hillsborough Commissioner Kimberly Overman, chair of the county’s human trafficking task force.

The goal, she said, is “to use big events, like the Super Bowl, to highlight an issue right in front of us that we don’t always necessarily see.”

Related: Fundraiser combines art and trafficking awareness in Tampa Bay

Reynolds and Overman spoke to reporters Tuesday to highlight the public awareness effort. Reynolds said the NFL provided new clothing and supplies to the Crisis Center on Tuesday that will be given to sexual assault victims.

The Crisis Center conducts a rape exam every day and said two of every three sexual assaults go unreported, Reynolds said. She said the number of human trafficking victims the organization has aided is “not as robust as we’d like.” The Crisis Center said it assisted 14 clients during calendar year 2020 that disclosed a history of sex trafficking.

Part of the dilemma, officials said, is that victims are vulnerable and have been coerced, threatened or drugged to work as prostitutes. They’re afraid to seek help.

“Nobody grew up wanting to sell their body,” said Overman.

Victims are encouraged to call 211 for help. The public can report suspected human trafficking by texting CTYTIP to 847411.

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