Human traffickers lure victims to hard life


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Panelists for the Jan. 11 Human Trafficking Symposium included Master Sgt. Patrick Guckian of the Metropolitan Orlando Police Department, left, Erin Wirsing of Devereux, assistant statewide prosecutor Diane Checcio of the Florida Attorney General's Office, Diane Scott of the Children's Advocacy Center, Human Trafficking Task Force supervisor Sgt. Dave Allmond of the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation and Sue Aboul-hosn of the Florida Department of Children's Services, the event organized by District 8 U.S. Congressman Bill Posey's office in Viera. Photo by Linda Wiggins

A longing to belong and be loved is what lures teens and even pre-teens to human trafficking, rather than tied hands and kidnapping as the movie “Taken” would suggest.

So said a panel of experts that included two speakers from the Viera/Suntree area Jan. 11, Human Trafficking Awareness Day. The Eastern Florida State College Cocoa campus symposium organized by District 8 U.S. Congressman Bill Posey's office in Viera drew hundreds of community leaders from government, nonprofit and faith-based agencies, churches and businesses and included parents, grandparents, students, teachers and volunteers.

“These victims are vulnerable and have been emotionally groomed,” said Erin Wirsing, the DELTA program manager for commercially sexually exploited children at Devereux Florida. A growing number of youngsters rescued from human trafficking receive treatment services at the Devereux residential school in Viera.

“They don't even realize they are in human trafficking and in most cases don't identify as a victim at all. That makes it very difficult to get them out of that life and keep them out.”

Working together was one of the key solutions listed to winning the hearts of victims and shackling their perpetrators. The symposium itself was a bringing together of many agencies.

The Children's Advocacy Center of Brevard in Suntree is a collaboration all its own, a central clearing house where an abused child, including human trafficking victims, can be taken, and law enforcement, child abuse investigators, medical professionals, counselors and case managers and more converge in a child-friendly environment rather than having to shuttle the child from location to location.

Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey, State Attorney Phil Archer, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Florida Department of Children and Families, The East Coast Human Trafficking Task Force, Metropolitan Orlando Police and the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation were just a sampling of the speakers and agencies represented.

Zonta Club of Melbourne, whose mission centers on stopping human trafficking, the Jr. League of South Brevard and Space Coast Women In Defense were among the civic organizers.

Break-out session presenter pastor Bill Stanley of the Nomad Church, whose outreach mission centers on rescuing and restoring humanity to victims, paraphrased Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s quote that whatever affects one directly, affects us all indirectly.

“I hope that everyone here will look to do whatever they can to help someone, report a suspicious situation, rather than walk by it. The first step is becoming aware and helping others to become aware,” he said.

Event partners included the Brevard County Tourist Development Council because human trafficking includes forced labor in general — dubbed modern day slavery — and many of the laborers work in hotels and the cruise lines of the local tourism trade, or toil in agriculture. Many workers are promised a very different scenario by brokers, and are threatened with harm of themselves and family members if they try to escape squalid conditions.

“It's not just a local, state or regional problem, it's international and must be stopped,” Posey charged by video to open the conference.

For more information, go to posey.house.gov or call 321-632-1776.

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