All it takes is one story to make domestic human trafficking real to people.
So that’s how Klaas Kids Foundation Search and Rescue director Brad Dennis closed a three-hour training seminar on domestic trafficking awareness Tuesday at Florida Gulf Coast University — with his own story of survival.
“Back when that was happening to me we didn’t have that term ‘human trafficking.’ I didn’t have any recourse,” said Dennis, as he told the crowd of more than 60 how for a year his uncle sold him to friends so he could support his drug habit.
Dennis was part of a free training about human trafficking sponsored by FGCU’s honors program, the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking, Global Child Rescue and the Klass Kids Foundation. The event came on the heels of Monday’s worldwide observation of Human Trafficking Awareness Day.
Attendees ranged from college students and law enforcement officials to area residents who just wanted to find out how they could help tackle the problem.
“I knew that it happened here, but I didn’t know to what extent,” said FGCU junior Oprah Stuart, 20, adding that the event was a learning experience.
The event’s keynote speaker, Klaas Kids Foundation president Mark Klaas led the first part of the event that covered the big issues plaguing human trafficking advocates when it comes to helping domestic trafficking victims, including what anti-trafficking legislation may say and what’s actually being funded.
Due to the U.S. being considered a destination/demand country for human trafficking, the U.S. passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) in 2000. The TVPA defined all minors involved in commercial sex acts as human trafficking, including minors who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.
Klass said even though the legislation is there, no actual funding has been set aside to deal with domestic human trafficking victims that are U.S. citizens and don’t necessarily qualify for any of the services that foreign victims can access.
And instead of receiving the services they need, many domestic minor sex trafficking victims are detained in the criminal justice system under charges of prostitution.
“Not one red cent has been allocated for the service provider to deal with these kids once they are brought off the street,” Klass said.
Dennis took over for the second half of the evening, which was aimed at taking it down to the street level and explaining how a child or runaway teen ends up as a victim of human trafficking.
“To see what it looks like down to a pimp’s and a victim’s relationship,” he told attendees.
But part of the problem with human trafficking in America, Dennis said is although the people have identified that the U.S. has an issue, it’s only being identified as an international problem with America as a destination country.
“What we want to bring to the forefront is that America is also a source country,” said Dennis. “We are providing that sources, meaning our own citizens.”
According to Klass, the commercial sexual exploitation of American children through prostitution or pornography or sexual performance for money or other compensation (shelter, food or drugs), is rampant in the U.S.
In a 2009 report, the U.S. Department of State acknowledged that an unknown number of American residents and citizens are victims of human trafficking for sexual servitude.
The Klass Kids Foundation estimates that half of the 1.6 million to 2.8 million children that run away annually in the U.S. are girls and that within 48 hours of hitting the streets, one third of these children are lured or recruited into the underground world of prostitution or pornography.
That’s why domestic trafficking has now become a priority in 2010, said Ana Rodriguez, Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking founder.
“We’re seeing that there is a high increase in the trafficking of minor U.S. kids rather than international,” said Rodriguez citing November’s Shaniya Davis case as an example. “We had a five-year-old that was sold by the mother and killed … She was a U.S. citizen and she sold her daughter. It’s time we start talking about domestic human trafficking.”