Six years ago, when Macaire King was just 12, she was pulled up on stage and had an encounter that changed her life.
“She picked me out of a crowd of thousands people and used me as an example to show this is the average age of girls that are being trafficked," she said, recalling her experience with world-renowned antihuman trafficking speaker, Christine Caine. “This is happening in my backyard. These are my peers. It could be me.”
In the course of a 10-minute interview in the courtyard of Sarasota’s Riverview High School, King rattled off glaring statistic after glaring statistic about the dangers of human trafficking inside the gates of her campus.
Each new figure only highlighted why she’s pressing toward making a major change in Florida school’s education practices.
“One of the figures, I think, is 80 percent of students who run away are approached by a trafficker within 48 hours,” explained King. “I don’t think it’s an issue that most people understand.”
King pointed out that the Hollywood depiction of human trafficking, in movies such as "Taken," are not always painting an accurate picture of what human trafficking really is. According to the high school senior, 90 percent of trafficking victims are coerced, not abducted.
“For someone who recognizes that problem and wants to change it, that’s awesome,” said fellow Riverview senior Max Kleiber. “When the topic of human trafficking comes up, no one wants to talk about it.”
King, with the help of local Sen. Greg Steube, proposed a bill that would make changes to the way students in public schools are educated about the dangers of human trafficking. Under the new education platform King would like to see implemented, students in public health classes would be required to learn warning signs, common phrasing and websites traffickers use to lure victims.
Most importantly, the students, ideally as young as middle school, would be given ways to spot potential trafficking problems and get help avoiding the situations.
“It’s not like we are constantly reading articles or hearing stories about human trafficking,” said Kleiber. “It’s not like we all have background information or have information fully.”
“A lot of kids are not aware,” said Deb Bryan, who taught King at Riverview. “They hear human trafficking and they think big groups and bad guys and that kind of thing when in fact it can be a one on one situation.”
King’s proposed bill, labeled State Bill 286, was filed Jan. 6, 2017, and referred to four different committees:
It was unanimously favored by three of the committees on March 21 and sent to the committee on Education. On May 5, the bill died in Education, was tabled indefinitely and withdrawn from consideration.
King is hopeful it will be re-read next session and signed into law this coming year.
“You wouldn’t think that it’d be happening here but it really is and it’d happening in high school,” she said in a serious tone. “It’s happening to kids younger than that. The average age of kids being trafficked is 12 years old and that’s so sad. I think that it’s something that people do need to know and be aware of.”
© 2017 WTSP-TV