Tag Archive: Florida

Let’s Not Ignore That Human Trafficking Is Happening In Our Neighborhoods

January 28, 2023

by Christine Commerce, Communications Director

As we celebrate Human Trafficking Awareness Month once again and #WearBlueDay that took place on Jan. 11, I reflect on the principle of Think Globally, Act Locally.

For the past four years, I have worked as coordinator for the Diocese of Orlando Human Trafficking Task Force and now I am entering new territory as I transition from addressing human trafficking in Central Florida to a national level as the new Director of Communications for the U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking. My role is very different, but the goals are still very similar – raise awareness of this issue, prevent trafficking from happening in the first place and have people take a look at how we play a role in human trafficking, including labor exploitation and our purchasing choices.

Aside from a national level focus, I still volunteer for this cause locally from participating in A21’s Walk for Freedom in October to the Central Florida Human Trafficking Task Force’s Red Sand Event in Orlando, where volunteers pour red sand into the cracks of the sidewalk to raise awareness by posting pictures on social media. The sand represents millions of victims who fall through the cracks due to lack of identification, services, law enforcement etc. There are an estimated 50 million people in human trafficking around the world if you include forced marriage.

Millions of people fall through the cracks with less than 1% of people in the United States who get the services they need to get out of the life. During a Christmas party, I recently spoke with my husband’s aunt, a retired emergency room nurse, who recognized the red flags of human trafficking: A 15-year-old girl with an older woman who spoke for her and had medical conditions that were consistent with someone who was experiencing sex trafficking. Yet when my husband’s aunt went to the doctor on duty with her concerns, his response was, “I don’t have time for that.”

My immediate response upon hearing this story was anger, not toward the trafficker but at this doctor, who is supposed to be committed to the care of others and saving lives. Yet, he was too busy to save the life of a 15-year-old girl. The average life span of a trafficking victim is seven years in the life because if they are not rescued or identified then they may die of a drug overdose, from medical complications or are killed. My anger turned into sadness for this girl who slipped through the cracks of a system that was supposed to help her but failed.

Another example was recently relayed to me when I heard of human trafficking survivor who needed food services and was never connected to the local food pantry. This breaks my heart as the services for human trafficking survivors are what helps them stay out of “the life.” Without resources, they are left without options, hope and the necessities needed to live their lives free from their traffickers who can very easily exploit their vulnerabilities and find themselves right back in “the life.” Soon after, she went missing and was just one more victim who fell through the cracks.

Each of us has a responsibility when it comes to human trafficking, whether that’s to learn the signs to help identify victims, to change the way we purchase products or to use our voice to speak up and create awareness of this issue. There are so many ways we can help and make a difference whether it’s writing to your favorite companies or contacting your legislators for policies to protect survivors and prosecute the buyers and traffickers.

William Wilberforce, a famous abolitionist who was instrumental in abolishing the slave trade in England once said, “We can choose to look the other way, but never again can you say you did not know.”

Together, by doing our own part whether it’s volunteering, educating or using our purchasing power, we can help end modern-day slavery and the exploitation of our brothers and sisters.

Four Disney Employees Arrested In Florida Human Trafficking, Child Predator Sting

April 14, 2022

Four Disney employees were arrested in a massive undercover operation targeting human traffickers, child predators and prostitution.

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office identified the workers at a news conference Wednesday following the conclusion of Operation March Sadness 2, a six-day sting that led to the arrests of 108 people.

Xavier Jackson, 27, of Kissimmee, allegedly communicated online and via text with an undercover detective posing as a 14-year-old girl, authorities said.

Jackson worked as a lifeguard at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, Sheriff Grady Judd said. He allegedly sent photos showing him “doing things that’s totally inappropriate” and bragged about working at the resort, the sheriff said.

Jackson was arrested and charged with three counts of harmful material and one count of unlawful communication.

The three other Disney employees were identified as Ralph Leese, 45; Shubham Malave, 27; and Wilakson Fidele, 24. They were all charged with soliciting a prostitute, Judd said.

Fidele, from Orlando, worked at Disney for about four years at the Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café in Tomorrowland, the sheriff said. Leese, from Winter Garden, worked in IT for Disney, and Malave was a software developer for the company. Malave is in the United States on a work visa, according to Judd.

Read the full story by Minyvonne Burke on NBC News.

3 Accused Of Trafficking Teens At Orlando Hotels; Police Believe There May Be More Victims

March 18, 2022

ORLANDO, Fla. – Police with the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation announced on Wednesday the arrests of two women and a man who are accused of trafficking at least three teens for sex acts at several hotels in Orlando.

Officers arrested Tracy Koger, 34, and Tyrell San Juan Ponds, 46, in January and both are locked up in Orange County. Shana Marie Lee Bryant, 36, was arrested in December 2021 in Seminole County.

“They would offer (the victims) places to stay — offered to take care of them,” Ron Stucker, director of the MBI said during a news conference Wednesday. “Of course, once they had control over them, then what would happen is they would begin to exploit them and manipulate them.”

The investigation into the trio began in July 2021 when a 15-year-old runaway turned up at Dr. Phillips Hospital saying she had been battered, according to a news release. The Orange County Sheriff’s Office turned the case over to the MBI when it was revealed she was a victim of human trafficking.

Read the full story by Thomas Mates on Click Orlando.

She was trafficked as a child. Now this survivor fights back through coffee.

August 22, 2019

Sanford, Florida (CNN) From the drinks to the décor, everything about Palate Coffee Brewery is warm — and not just because it’s located in sunny central Florida. Some 1,200 miles south of Boston, it’s reminiscent of a famous hangout where everyone knows your name.

“I always say it’s like ‘Cheers,'” says Palate co-founder and co-owner Tina Kadolph. “It’s a place where people can go and feel safe and they’re cared about.”

Kadolph, who describes herself as a “survivor warrior of child sex trafficking,” dreamed up Palate as a café with a mission. All the baristas are volunteers, and all profits — even tips — go to fight human trafficking and help survivors.

“The person who buys our coffee is not just buying a cup of coffee,” Kadolph explains. “They’re making a community difference, a global difference, an individual difference, in lives.”

For Kadolph, it’s the kind of support she wished for growing up.

“I have always longed to help other people because of my childhood. I didn’t have help,” she adds. “I know what it feels like to have nothing and to have no hope.”

To read the full article by Julia M. Chan and watch the video on CNN: Click Here

Florida Human Trafficking Signs Get Updates

May 30, 2019

There are required signs posted in airports, train stations and highway rest stops throughout the state to raise awareness of the National Human Trafficking Hotline. We hit the road to see if the message was getting through to travelers.

At our local airport as well as rest stops and train stations across the state, people told us they never noticed the signs.

“It doesn’t have anything to draw attention to it,” said Donna VanBramer a seasonal resident. “I have to say I probably would ignore that sign. And I usually read everything. I was a teacher for 30 years.”

“I have stopped at multiple rest areas across I-75, and I had never noticed the sign,” said anti-trafficking advocate Yaro Garcia, and she is always on high alert.  Garcia has counseled trafficking survivors for more than a decade and works with law enforcement as an advocate.  “This does not look like a sign meant to help someone in trouble,” she said.

In 2016 state legislators passed a bill requiring the signs be created and posted. Current Congressional Representative Ross Spano co-sponsored the bill when he was a state lawmaker.

To read the story by Jack Lowenstein on Wink News: Click Here