Column: Combatting human trafficking in Tampa Bay

The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce refuses to let the Tampa Bay community be prey for human traffickers — not now and not as we look toward hosting the Super Bowl in 2021.
Published February 12

Human trafficking is not only a global issue, it is also a local issue right here in Tampa Bay. Recognizing this fact, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, along with its member businesses, has identified proactive approaches to begin tackling the issue.

Next Monday, Feb 18., we’re hosting a Human Trafficking Summit regarding policy efforts and initiatives to end human trafficking. This summit will include a discussion moderated by Dottie Groover-Skipper with these featured panelists: Florida State Attorney General Ashley Moody, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, Medical Director for St. Joseph’s Hospital Emergency Department, Dr. Dion Samerson, and Elizabeth Melendez Fisher, co-founder/CEO of Selah Freedom, a national nonprofit that focuses on ending sex trafficking and exploitation.

Why is the chamber and the business community getting involved with this effort of tackling human trafficking? Fighting this problem aligns with our vision and mission. Specifically, in 2016, the chamber created a 10-year vision plan, Vision 2026, which tasks us with looking forward and planning for the future. With Vision 2026, we seek to be the catalyst for change in the Tampa Bay community we serve, to include addressing economically critical issues impacting the business community and community at large. The bottom line is the issue of human trafficking impedes the recruitment of new industries, and the overall quality of life in the Tampa Bay community that the chamber serves. These impacts are all critical components for economic development and growth of a region. And, when Tampa Bay has a barrier such as human trafficking preventing us from reaching our full potential, leaders must step up.

By hosting a community conversation about human trafficking on Feb. 18, the chamber strives to create a hub for all businesses to discuss policy, social responsibility and prevention. We strive to be an inclusive organization that takes into account and considers the needs and concerns of all of the businesses that make up our membership — even when those needs, and concerns require difficult community conversations like the reality of human trafficking.

The chamber serves a community that is proactive. As a result, with many community partners already involved, we want to join forces and ensure that the business community is at the table. We just saw the Super Bowl in Atlanta where human trafficking became an issue, with more than 160 arrests related to the issue during this time frame. The chamber refuses to let the Tampa Bay community be prey for human traffickers — not now and not as we look toward hosting the Super Bowl in 2021.

In order for us to really confront this issue head-on, we are focusing on policy, social responsibility, and prevention. On a policy level, we are currently tracking state legislation that would address human trafficking, and we look forward to hearing from our panelists at the Human Trafficking Summit where we can be a catalyst for change on the policy level. Social responsibility also plays a huge role in human trafficking because, as a global issue, it requires awareness from everyone. It takes members of the business community to recognize these trends and every industry to be willing to work towards a solution. As for prevention, the chamber will work with organizations like Selah Freedom and others to help ensure that prevention resources are available for our community and education partners.

With more than 27 million men, women and children trafficked within and across international borders, the business community, our nonprofit partners, our elected officials, community leaders, and law enforcement agencies all want to send a clear message that we will work tirelessly to defeat human trafficking here in Tampa Bay.

Jamie Harden, CEO of Creative Sign Designs, is the 2019 chair of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.