Advertisement
  1. News

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

Shannon Martucci listens to a speaker at the Human Trafficking Breakfast Forum at Stetson’s Tampa Law Center on Wednesday. The audience heard leaders in law, nonprofits and law enforcement, and a human trafficking survivor.
Published Feb. 28, 2013

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 cjohnston@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2443.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Scott Purcell, a senior geophysicist with GeoView, left, and Mike Wightman, president of GeoView, use ground-penetrating radar to scan a portion of King High School campus in search for Ridgewood Cemetery. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    Preliminary answers from the ground-penetrating radar could come as soon as next week.
  2. James Dailey, 73, was granted a stay of execution Wednesday. He had been set to be executed on Nov. 7 for the 1985 murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio. Florida Department of Corrections
    The execution will be postponed for 90 days for his attorneys to present their claims. Prosecutors can appeal. Dailey was set to be put to death Nov. 7. His lawyers have argued that he is innocent.
  3. Markeith Loyd, suspected of fatally shooting a Florida police officer, attends his initial court appearance Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, at the Orange County Jail, in Orlando, Fla. Loyd spoke out of turn and was defiant during the appearance on charges of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend. He was injured during his arrest Tuesday night following a weeklong manhunt.
    The same jury found Loyd guilty last week of first-degree murder in the fatal shooting 24-year-old Sade Dixon outside her home in 2016.
  4. The new owner of a dilapidated mobile home park on Gandy Boulevard has sued the city of Tampa over a record-setting fine levied against the property for a massive tree removal in August. [CHARLIE FRAGO | Times]
    A Gandy Boulevard mobile home park owner is suing the city of Tampa over a record $420,000 fine .
  5. Dashboard camera video shows a Tampa police cruiser pursuing Dusharn Weems through a parking lot. A second later, Weems is fatally injured when the car strikes him. Courtesy Haydee Oropesa
    The family of Dusharn Weems, 23, claims an officer intentionally struck him after he was spotted driving a stolen car.
  6. Evangeline Cummings posted a video on Twitter of what appears to be a wasp stinging a coral snake that was dangling from a branch attempting to eat a dead snake. Evangeline Cummings/Twitter
    A coral snake found that out the hard way and a Florida woman caught it all on camera.
  7. Edward Nathaniel Holmes, 63, and Cynthia Ann Day, 49, a couple from Maryland, were found dead in their hotel room at the Grand Bahia Principe La Romana Resort in San Pedro de Macoris on May 30. Facebook
    News of the deaths of American tourists went viral earlier this year. Theories of tainted alcohol have damaged tourism to the island country since.
  8. An arrest report says a Customs and Border Patrol agent put 40-year-old Carlos Alberto Munoz-Moyano through a routine check after arriving at Miami International Airport on a flight from Chile early Monday. WILFREDO LEE  |  AP
    The flight attendants told agents they were smuggling the cash on behalf of someone else.
  9. Mirna Orellana, left, a community organizer from the non-profit group We Are Casa, helps Karyme Navarro, right, fill out a voter registration form in York, Pa., on Sept. 30, 2019. Democrats are counting on Hispanics so enraged by President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric that they’ll turn out in force to deny him a second term, but Trump’s reelection campaign has launched its own Hispanic outreach efforts in non-traditional places like Pennsylvania, arguing that even slim gains could decide the 2020 race. WILL WEISSERT  |  AP
    “You don’t need everyone from every group, but you have to have a little bit of everything.” said Bertica Cabrera Morris, a “Latinos For Trump” advisory board member.
  10. FILE - In this Jan. 26, 2011 file photo Akhmed Bilalov speaks with The Associated Press on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Bilalov, a former Russian Olympic Committee official, who fled the country following accusations by President Vladimir Putin was arrested Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019, at his home in Sunny Isles, Fla., on an alleged immigration violation. MICHEL EULER  |  AP
    Akhmed Bilalov was taken to the Krome detention facility in Miami to face deportation and remained in custody Wednesday.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement