Volunteers deliver rescue backpacks to human trafficking survivors who were rescued with only the clothes on their backs.

SouthShore’s Campaign Against Human Trafficking (CAHT) is working to raise awareness in the community during Human Trafficking Awareness Month in January.

The nonprofit organization is hosting a viewing of Blind Eyes Opened, a 2020 film that follows six human trafficking victims and their stories, on Tuesday, January 16 at the Firehouse Cultural Center. CAHT-SouthShore President Lou Anne Rossdeutscher said the film offers an impactful insight and includes the stories of two local victims. Sheriff Grady Judd is also featured in the movie for his work in saving local victims.

Niki Cross, a St. Petersburg survivor and STAAR Ministry founder, is featured in the movie. Cross will be speaking to the community at a CAHT event on Tuesday, February 27 at the Valencia Lakes Travel Club.

“What we have found is a lot of the women who were victims who have become successful survivors have created their own organizations,” Rossdeutscher said. “They’re really strong. … It’s truly a cool thing to watch.”

CAHT will host presentations against human trafficking to churches, social organizations, schools and women’s groups throughout the year. Rossdeutscher said social media is the leading way for criminals to traffic victims, prompting the nonprofit to host presentations about social media safety as well.

Two CAHT members will host the presentation on Monday, January 22 at Calgary Church. There will be two presentations, one for adults and one for youth audience members.

CAHT also produces rescue backpacks for victims during their first few days of assessment and search for shelter. Each backpack costs roughly $55 and contains toiletries, clothes, a journal and other essentials. Over the last five years, the organization has produced nearly 800 backpacks, distributing 180 in 2023 alone.

She said the biggest challenge has been getting the community to understand human trafficking is happening in their neighborhoods.

“What we say is ‘get educated, get enraged, then get engaged’ because that is what we all need to do,” she said.

Rossdeutscher said CAHT will also focus on ending the demand for human trafficking victims because human trafficking is a demand-driven market. Lowering the demand, she said, will lower the need for victims.

“Our mission is to end human trafficking in the area. We are committed to education and prevention, and we are committed to supporting the victims,” she said.

CAHT relies on donations and dedicated volunteers to support the organization’s mission.

For more information on the nonprofit’s events or to support the cause, visit https://sccblueheart.org/.

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Lily Belcher
Lily Belcher is a writer for the Osprey Observer. She started as an intern in the summer of 2020 and has continued to write for the Osprey Observer since completing her internship. Lily is majoring in mass communications at the University of South Florida and is a staff writer for the university’s paper, The Oracle. She enjoys writing about local nonprofit organizations and community role models who have made an impact on her hometown.