Monday, November 16, 2015

Diversity Committee: Human Trafficking Stains Local Community

By Luis Viera

        As attorneys, it is our duty to not only make a monetary profit, but to make a moral profit, with the benefits going to those who lack a voice. And nowhere is the need for a moral investment for the voiceless more compelling locally than human trafficking.

        Human trafficking refers to trade in humans, traditionally for the purpose of sexual slavery or forced labor. Behind Tampa’s attractive beaches and cultural history lies a menacing world of sexual exploitation, rape, and slavery. Approximately 50,000 individuals are trafficked into the United States annually, and Florida is the third-highest-ranked state for human trafficking, with my hometown ― the Tampa Bay area ― being a top Florida destination.

        Trafficking provides lavish profits of $32 billion annually in international trade. And this lucrative trade stains our community.

        What is it about the Tampa area that makes us such a magnet for trafficking? Our infamous numerous sex-related businesses often serve as easy covers for human trafficking. Also, our neighboring areas ― reaching from Highlands County to Polk County ― are rural and include many Latino migrant families, whose family members are more susceptible to becoming human trafficking victims shipped here.

        This is a moral challenge that should not go unaddressed. All sectors of our community should play a pivotal role in combating this.

        Local government has a strong role to play. Just recently, the Tampa City Council looked at sensible measures to combat the so-called “Asian massage parlors,” where women typically live on site, are confined, and provide forced sex seven days a week. Police should promote the idea that when men frequent these massage parlors, they aid institutions that often engage in slavery and sexual exploitation.

        Additionally, we should create a Tampa Citizens Commission on Human Trafficking to find bright and new perspectives.

        Church communities should have an increased role in combating trafficking by funding ministries, such as private safe houses, where victims of human trafficking can find relief. Safe houses are often tragically underfunded. Just one year after the passage of Florida’s Safe Harbor Act, which sought to fund safe houses through increased fines on prostitution Johns, less than $10,000 in fines were collected to fund these efforts. All churches should stamp the many faces of human trafficking on the minds of congregants.

        Human trafficking is a crisis that implicates many of our identities. I write in this publication as an attorney. However, I am moved on this issue as a member of my religious faith ― a Christian.  And I am moved immensely, additionally, as an American. Many victims of trafficking are immigrants who were brought here with the promise of being an American. I think of my own late father, who came to East Tampa as a Cuban exile at the age of 16. These immigrants want what my own father wanted more than 50 years ago ― opportunity and respect ― but instead live the nightmare of slavery, all done locally in Tampa.  

        These victims deserve not only our prayers but our action. Fredrick Douglas once wrote that “I prayed for freedom for 20 years” as a slave “but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”  We should be moved to act on this intolerable evil.