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02.19.2015 Sharon Spano, Ph.D.

If You See Something, Say Something, Please!

Sex Trafficking has apparently become a multibillion dollar industry across this country. Yes, right here in the United States. It’s not something that’s only happening in Asia and other far away places. It’s happening in your neighborhood and mine. And, it’s robbing our sons and daughters of their youth.

I’ve been learning more about this shocking epidemic over the last year. Stuff I wish I didn’t have to know.

Last Tuesday, I attended a breakfast sponsored by ConnectCity and The Healing and Transition Program here in Orlando. The keynote speaker was Assistant State Attorney Ryan Vescio.

I don’t typically write about political and social issues, but the information that Vescio offered was so unnerving, I feel compelled to share what I’ve learned. Seems to me that each of us, as responsible citizens, have a responsibility to join in this fight for the sake of our children and the future of our communities.

Whether you’re a parent, shop keeper, entrepreneur, or corporate executive, you, too, can be an interruption to the devastating effects of trafficking by doing three simple things:

1. Understand the Trafficking System

Forget everything you’ve ever seen in the movies about prostitution in all the dark corners of major cities.

Today’s traffickers target young men to recruit teenage girls. Girls from your community who are A students and cheerleaders. Kids from good families whom we want to believe would know better.

Here’s how the system works:

Imagine your daughter and a group of her friends. They hang out on a regular basis in typical places: Starbucks, the mall, the movies.

A young man strategically gets to know one or two of these girls. He quickly learns one specific girl’s likes and dislikes. He becomes her “friend.” Gains access to her social media and is now privy to her comings and goings.

This information is then shared with another young man who happens along and soon becomes her “soul mate.” Prince Charming knows her so well she can hardly believe her good fortune. This newfound boyfriend begins to take precedence over everything else.

If you’re a parent, I know what you’re thinking. Not my daughter. I know her friends. I know where she goes. I know what she does.

If you’re having these thoughts, let me take you on a trip down memory lane. Who among us hasn’t, at one time or another, deceived our parents in order to do something that we knew they wouldn’t approve of?

So, when this newfound boyfriend tells your daughter that she’s so beautiful she should try out for modeling, what do you think she does?

Once the process is in full motion, here’s the most shocking news of all.

It takes approximately 4-6 weeks to take an innocent young girl from teenager to prostitute.

According to Assistant State Attorney Ryan Vescio, the Cycle of Trafficking looks something like this:

  • Soul mate boyfriend convinces beautiful young girl that she could be a model.
  • Modeling pictures evolve to a swimsuit or nude shoot.
  • Girl is then convinced she can make even more money doing some private escorting: No sex. Just an innocent night out with a “friend” who’s new in town.
  • Drugs and alcohol enter the scene, and the rest is history.

At a minimum, each victim is required to earn at least $1,000 per day or the consequences are dire.

Imagine your city, like mine, with dozens and dozens of young men fully trained on how to target, at a minimum, 10-20 girls at $1,000.00 per day.

You won’t hear much about this on the local news. There’s no commercial ads to support this information. It’s up to each of us to make the facts known.

2. Spread Awareness

As business leaders in the community, we can spread awareness. Help your friends, colleagues, and neighbors understand the gravity of this epidemic.

Vescio shared a real-life example of three young girls who were targeted by a local recruiter. Over an 18-month period of time, these girls were coerced into over 900 “escort” calls. When law enforcement came in, they seized an apartment full of cash and cell phones. Apparently, each girl is given a different name and cell phone each day because it makes it harder for their loved ones to track them down.

These are the kinds of stories and details we need to share with our friends and colleagues. These atrocities aren’t happening to someone’s else children. They’re happening to ours. Here and now in the bedroom communities of Orlando: neighborhoods like Altamonte Springs, Oviedo, Baldwin Park, MetroWest, Winter Park, and Heathrow.

If it’s happening in our land of magic and fairy dust, it’s happening across America.

3. Help Transform Victims to Survivors

It takes a village to raise a child. These words were never more true than they are today.

Orlando is taking a stand against sex and labor trafficking in our town. The Greater Orlando Human Trafficking Task Force is diligently working to move our children from victim to survivor.

GOHTTF is a citizens coalition made up of volunteer professionals who are passionate about combating human trafficking. Their mission is to defend, rescue, restore and empower victims of human trafficking in Central Florida.

This task force is addressing several pressing issues:

  • The need for immediate safety
  • The need for mental health counseling and treatment for substance abuse
  • The need for training and job placement

I invite you to investigate such a task force in your local community. Of, if you’d like to know more about this specific task force, please go to www.gohttf.org. You can also make a contribution or volunteer to help end this level of slavery, by going to: www.connectcity.org.

If you can do nothing else, teach your children: if they see something, say something.

Published by Sharon Spano, Ph.D. February 19, 2015