FREEDOM2017 at City Hall

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September 28, Orlando, FL

Elected officials, business leaders, media, and community members filled the rotunda of Orlando City Hall today to hear Orlando’s commitment to stopping human trafficking. FREEDOM2017 was an event hosted by the City of Orlando highlighting the efforts of Florida Abolitionist.

As visitors entered the building, they were greeted by excited members of our Florida Abolitionist team and partners from the Junior League of Orlando. Even before the event started, people lined up to have their pictures taken in front of a huge backdrop of the words “stop human trafficking.” There was an excitement in the crowd for what was happening in the room today.

Aaron Maners, COO of Florida Abolitionist, welcomed everyone and shared why he is involved. Human trafficking touched his household as a father. Stories like his exemplify the passion that is pervasive throughout the movement to stop human trafficking. This determination has defined the work of Tomas Lares, the Founder and Executive Director of Florida Abolitionist, for the past 13 years.

Lares touched hearts by sharing the story of a human trafficking survivor named Lisa who he met after the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation arrested her trafficker. She needed detox from substance addiction and therapy from her years of trauma. Florida Abolitionist walked alongside her during her healing journey. Lares was proud to say, “If Lisa was the only person we helped, it would have been worth it.”

But sadly, there are many others like Lisa who need our help.

The need for rehabilitation is great, so we are excited to partner with Aspire Health Partners and Orange County to open the first crisis human trafficking shelter for adults in the state. Orange County District 3 Commissioner Pete Clarke shared today that the funding has been approved to finance the shelter and it will open in 2018. This shelter will save lives and help stop what Clarke called “pure evil.”

The City of Orlando is in agreement with Orange County that human trafficking must be stopped. District 2 Commissioner Tony Ortiz encountered human trafficking as a law enforcement officer and his hands-on experience led him to join the Florida Abolitionist Board of Directors from the beginning. He knew the need was great and is taking a lead to make a difference.

Orlando City Mayor Buddy Dyer began by confronting the reality of the problem. He said, “While it’s a worldwide epidemic, we’re not immune here in the happiest place on earth.” The Mayor solidified Orlando’s resolve by saying, “Our community is committed to not only standing up for the victims, but also to stopping human trafficking.”

We are grateful our city is taking a stand. Freedom and hope are the messages that we want to permeate our community. Local artist, Alejandro Ruiz, created a mobile version of what will become a wall mural on a local building in coming months to remind us of those messages. The colorful mural of a woman’s face and birds stunned the crowd when it was unveiled.

Following the event, the media held interviews while guests took photographs and snacked on food generously provided by the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. It was a memorable event to proclaim that Orlando will not tolerate human trafficking and we will stop it by working together.

Did you attend FREEDOM2017? Please tag Florida Abolitionist and use the hashtag #stophumantrafficking so we can see your pictures from the day!

If you would like to get involved in the fight against human trafficking, please attend our upcoming Abolitionist Training on October 28 from 10-4. You will learn more about how modern-day slavery operates in our community and how you can be part of the solution. Register here.

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by Blair Pippin

Creative & Prevention Director • Florida Abolitionist

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