by Sydney Rhodes
Human trafficking is the fastest growing and third largest organized criminal activity. It is one of the most prevalent in the U.S. today. According to the Florida Dream Center, this underground industry holds an estimate of 21 million victims worldwide and generates $32 billion in profit per year.
The center found that there is a yearly average of 200,000 victims under the age of 18 and that human trafficking is a definite global issue with a large presence in the Tampa Bay Area.
Max DiFranco, sophomore accounting and finance student, co-founded the Student Coalition Against Human Trafficking at UT in the spring of 2018 after attending a presentation on the issues of human trafficking.
“My friend and I were very moved by this and we started doing some research to see how common it is in Tampa,” said DiFranco. “We found that Tampa is one of the largest hotspots in the country for human trafficking and wanted to bring the attention to UT Students.”
According to the Florida Dream Center, Florida is currently ranked in the top three states for the number of calls made to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Additionally, the Florida Department of Children and Families collected more than 2,100 reports regarding human trafficking in the last year.
The student coalition hosts one to two events each semester to spread awareness for human trafficking and educate students in spotting possible scenarios, as well as how to avoid them. While working alongside The U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking, they host guest speakers and show documentaries.
“The University of Tampa has a large bar and nightlife scene and this is where students can run into the majority of these scenarios,” said DiFranco. “With a big tourism rate, an international airport and cruise ship ports, Tampa is a vulnerable city for human trafficking.”
Sierra Vogel, University of Pittsburgh student and co-founder of the UT Student Coalition Against Human Trafficking, said she first heard about human trafficking as a freshman, while attending UT. She said her purpose has been to bring as much attention to the global issue as she can, since it was a foreign topic to her at first.
“Human trafficking is something that’s hard for law enforcement to bust,” said Vogel. “Police and businesses try to keep it a secret and it can be very hard to find the perpetrator involved, but understanding it and how to avoid it is so crucial.”
Vogel currently attends The University of Pittsburgh and said she is involved with Pitt Serves, a university club which focuses on community service and engagement. She is committed to educate the student body in human trafficking, while organizing events.
Jess Sivillo, junior communications major, is currently establishing Tampa’s first chapter of The Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution Project. This organization labels soap bars with the phone number of the National Human Trafficking Hotline and donates them to hotels around the country. They are also focused on increasing awareness in the public on the prevalence of human trafficking.
“I first learned about human trafficking when the S.O.A.P Project spoke to my high school,” said Sivillo. “I found out that this was an issue that affected my community and it was something I felt like I needed to be involved in.”
After working with the organization throughout high school, Sivillo said she found that Tampa was a hotspot for human trafficking and it only felt right to continue her work with S.O.A.P.
“Right now I’m working on getting together outreaches and events to provide more bars of soap to hotels around the Tampa area,” said Sivillo. “I plan on building relationships with hotels and the sheriff’s office to further this chapter and find out what I can do to help.”
More organizations around the nation are striving to prevent human trafficking and counties are becoming “Traffic Free Zones.” UT students are also contributing to the movement by educating other students and communities about this little known issue. The epidemic remains to be one of the largest organized criminal activity in the Tampa Bay Area.
Sydney Rhodes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org