By Brad Stager
With millions of vacationers and just about as many newcomers arriving in an ongoing movement of people, Florida could well be called the Suitcase State.
While the flow of people through the area helps support business and lifestyle opportunities that make the region an attractive place to live, it can also be conducive to human trafficking, a situation in which individuals may not be free to come and go as they please.
According to Florida law, human trafficking is “transporting, soliciting, recruiting, harboring, providing, enticing, maintaining, purchasing, patronizing, procuring or obtaining another person for the purpose of exploitation of that person.” The National Human Trafficking Hotline, an organization tracking data on the issue, ranks Florida third in the country for human trafficking cases.
Human trafficking is a problem that exists in neighborhoods, urban and suburban, as well as rural areas where agriculture and even some manufacturing operations are the main industries. It encompasses sexual and labor exploitation.
The Hillsborough County Commission on Human Trafficking was created to address the issue in the local community by promoting awareness of human trafficking, working with stakeholders to monitor the issue, supporting local and state initiatives and assisting victims.
There are 20 members on the commission who are appointed by the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners. Among those on the board are residents who represent government, law enforcement and judicial agencies, as well as tourism and travel organizations, educational and religious institutions and community advocacy groups.
The knowledge and experience the commission brings together helps it address problems such as how to support trafficking victims who may find themselves involved in the judicial system as a consequence of their exploitation. According to Hillsborough County School Board member Karen Perez, mental health considerations should always be a high priority when dealing with exploited individuals.
“We don’t want to retraumatize our victims as we try to make sure we address their legal needs,” said Perez at the August 19 meeting.
Appointments to the commission are for terms of one or two years, depending on the position, and members are not paid for serving on the board.
Meetings are bimonthly, with dates and times to be specified, and currently are conducted on a hybrid in-person quorum basis, with participants convening in-person at the county center and virtually. You can get more details about the Hillsborough County Commission on Human Trafficking by visiting hcflgov.net.