By Libby Hopkins

Human trafficking has become the second fastest growing criminal enterprise after drugs. It is a $32 billion enterprise with 27 million affected globally. Tampa Bay is rated number five in the country for sex trafficking and at one point was rated number one.

The Rachel Project wants to raise awareness about this issue and help victims who feel they can’t escape trafficking. The Rachel Project was started by Marilyn Garcia, of Legacy Church in Tampa after she had been on several mission trips to Thailand where she met human trafficking face to face. She started looking into human trafficking here and was shocked at the statistics.

Garcia asked Karina Stong to become the director of the program because Stong had a heart for women in crisis.

“The Rachel Project was founded to recover and restore trafficked and exploited people,” Stong said.

The goal is to attack domestic minor sex trafficking on three fronts: awareness, advocating and restoration.

“We want to raise awareness by educating local businesses, government officials, churches, community groups and schools,” Stong said, “The more we are able to spot the signs and educate our youth, we are able to protect them from falling into trafficking situations.”

The project wants to advocate for tougher laws and create safe homes for victims in the area.

“We are a faith-based organization but human trafficking is a human right issue, not just a church issue,” Stong said, “The Rachel Project will use all of our connections not only through the church community, but in the marketplace and government, both locally and internationally to help bring together the resources needed to confront this issue.”

Stong said faith is what compels the project, the love of God to the community and to the victims.

“As in every battle, it will take prayer, hands and finances,” Stong said, “We welcome anyone who would like to get involved as a volunteer or financially.”

If you would like to volunteer or learn more about The Rachel Project, visit


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Libby Hopkins has been a part of the Brandon community for more than 30 years. She is a graduate of USF with a degree in journalism. She has been a freelance writer for The Osprey Observer Newspaper since 2008. She also the Executive Director of Center Place Fine Arts and Civic Association. She is a dog mom to her rescue dog, Marshall. She loves being a part of the Brandon Community and she loves sharing positive news about our community.