Washington, D.C., July 12, 2017
U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (FL-D) opened the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation with the words, “Human trafficking is a horrific crime. It is a widespread problem that requires us to put all solutions on the table.”
These words set the stage for the Senate hearing focusing on how transportation and supply chain stakeholders are combatting human trafficking. Senator Nelson invited our Founder and Executive Director, Tomas Lares, to be one of four expert witnesses on the panel.
In his opening statement, Senator Nelson spoke of how big the problem is in Florida. He said:
“In Florida, we, unfortunately, know the consequences of human trafficking all too well. According to the human trafficking hotline, Florida ranks third in the country for the number of cases reported in 2016. The Florida Department of Children and Families also said Florida received more than 1,800 reports alleging human trafficking. That’s a 54 percent increase over the year before. These statistics are shocking. But the stories of victims are even worse.”
To close his statement, Senator Nelson had a special comment for Mr. Lares. He said, “I thank all of our witnesses for being here today, especially Mr. Lares, who traveled from Florida to speak on the work he does to combat human trafficking in the Orlando area.” It was our privilege to be there.
The other witnesses included Ms. Keeli Sorensen, from Polaris; Esther Goetsch, from Truckers Against Trafficking; and Mr. Samir Goswami, from Issara Institute. It was an absolute honor to testify alongside these wonderful Abolitionists.
During the hearing, Mr. Lares had the opportunity to share with the committee the horrible reality and frequency of human trafficking cases in and around Orlando and how our agency is working to serve the victims.
We hope our input will help guide Federal decisions regarding victim care and the importance of increased investigations and education for the prevention of human trafficking.
Ironically, 13 years ago this week, Mr. Lares first learned about human trafficking while visiting Washington, D.C. Sitting in a meeting with former U.S. Senator Sam Brownback (KS-R) in July of 2004, the Senator reported findings from the Trafficking in Persons Report. Lares was shocked that modern-day slavery could exist and vowed to do something about it.
Do something, he has.
Since that fateful meeting, hundreds of trafficking victims have found freedom as a result of his efforts as a victim advocate and founding both Florida Abolitionist and the Greater Orlando Human Trafficking Task Force. In addition, thousands have been educated about the crime. This has likely prevented many children from being trafficked and led others to be identified and recovered.
Much has happened to stop human trafficking over the last 13 years. At that time, most people were not aware of the problem. We can only imagine what the next 13 will bring. Our hope and prayer is that human trafficking will cease to exist by then; but until that day comes, we will keep fighting to stop human trafficking in our city, nation, and world.
by Blair Pippin
Creative & Prevention Director • Florida Abolitionist