TAMPA, Fla. — With some major sporting events like WrestleMania and the Super Bowl coming to Tampa Bay in the next few months, human trafficking is a major concern.
In Hillsborough County, they’ve created a commission on human trafficking, and on Monday they met for the first time.
Florida already has the dubious distinction of being third in the nation when it comes to human trafficking. And, major sporting events, say those battling the scourge, can be a magnet for the illegal sex trade.
“This is a great place to come and have fun, but that’s not the kind of thing we want to tolerate and Hillsborough County,” said Hillsborough County Commissioner Kimberly Overman, who is heading the newly formed commission.
The board is dedicated to coordinating local and state agencies battling human trafficking in our area.
“Whether it’s labor or sex trafficking, it’s illegal,” said Overman.
One of the commission’s first priorities is to form what they call a "hero program."
They plan to reach out to restaurants, hotels and other industries likely to come in contact with visitors when they come to Tampa Bay for major events.
The idea is to give “hero” businesses an incentive to get as many of their employees as possible to take an online training program which will help them identify Human Trafficking when they see it, and then report it.
In exchange, top participants will earn “points” which they can apply toward future applications for Hillsborough County contracts.
Florida recently passed a law mandating this same sort of training for hotel workers.
Savannah Parvu, who helped spearhead that effort, was once trafficked herself. She says the training could be a lifesaver.
“So many people saw me,” said Parvu, “But they didn’t know what was happening. And, I think if they were trained, somebody would’ve stepped in and helped me when I was younger.”
At a recent drug summit in Tampa, experts said human traffickers have already started to arrive in Tampa Bay ahead of the big sporting events.
“We know that businesses are already ramping up to be prepared for this,” said Dotti Groover-Skipper, the Salvation Army’s Anti-Trafficking Director.
Members of the new commission include representatives from law enforcement, the tourism industry, port authorities, religious organizations and more.
On Monday, the board also took steps toward adding more members. Municipalities like Plant City and Temple Terrace expressed interest. They’re also working on adding a human trafficking survivor for that important perspective.
The diverse group is dedicated to confronting a looming challenge - not just during the upcoming events - but beyond.
“We don’t want it here,” said Overman. “Zero tolerance means zero.”
If you or somebody you know is a victim of human trafficking, there is help. You can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888 (TTY: 711) or text 233733.
You can find out more about how to recognize the signs here.
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