LUTZ, Fla. – Tampa Athletes Unite hosted an eye-opening and honest discussion about the reality of human trafficking. Dozens spent Friday night listening to stories of human sex trafficking from those leading the fight to stop it.
Charlotte Watson is one of those leaders. She speaks at events across the country.
Florida is third in the nation for the sex trafficking of women and children.
Watson explained how this brutal crime happens to women and children.
“This happens because it's right in front of us and we don't want to see it. We're not conditioned to think of it. We don't know what to do about it and it happens just because we don't look,” she said.
Watson says traffickers can be anyone and you should be vigilant to look for signs that someone is preying upon girls.
“When you see something that doesn't look right. When you see a guy at the mall trying to talk with a girl, a teenage girl, maybe befriend her or offer to help her out. They seem kind of cool. Maybe in your church and you have a new music director and he's got all the girls wrapped around his finger and then he starts saying, ‘Well I'll pick you up from school.’ Just those kinds of little things that don't look right and don't feel quite right.”
An undercover detective with the Clearwater Police Department also talked about how traffickers approach victims.
“We have a lot that approach on the street or at malls or at bus stops. We have others that pretend to be someone that they're not on the internet and going through Facebook, Instagram, and other types of social media,” she said.
The detective also talked about red flags, like physical abuse, that point to a victim of human sex trafficking.
“If you're out in public and you see possibly a man and a woman together and one is doing all the talking and one is kind of left in the shadow and not allowed to speak or move around.”
There is a national tip line you can call and anonymously report possible human trafficking: 1-888-373-7888.
Watson says a key to ending human sex trafficking is awareness. She says women and men need to talk about it and listen.
“Really I think a key element is to involve men in this effort because it's a new day now. It used to be that we could laugh at jokes about women or think about prostitution as a normal rite-of-passage for men, but when you're on the golf course if men start saying to other men, ‘Hey, I heard about this. We better change this. We have a role in stopping this,’ Men can stop men's violence against women and children. They’re the key to this,” she said.
An organization in Tampa is also working to help children rescued from human trafficking in their recovery.
Bridging Freedom will be built on 100 acres and will be a community for girls. It’s set to open in late 2017 and will initially serve 12 girls rescued from traffickers.
To learn more about Bridging Freedom and how you can help go to www.bridgingfreedom.org