The Tragedy of Human Trafficking
by Stacy Vermylen
Her story is achingly familiar and tragic at best. A victim of childhood sexual assault, the young girl suffered from forced sexual activity by those familiar to her and dominance by others. She lost any innocence before reaching the tender age of 10. Years of fear, abandonment and hopelessness characterized her teens, and by the time she was 20, she felt destroyed. Is this a story that can happen in Naples? In our beautiful Florida town?
Unfortunately, it is all too common. Florida ranks as the third largest “market” for human trafficking in the United States, and it happens right here in Naples, too.
Last January, 22 hotels in Naples were identified as sites for sex trafficking operations and were involved in a lawsuit to try to address the scourge upon the victims these traffickers created. Trafficking affects girls and boys, involves sex or forced labor, can affect children or teens who are gay or straight, affluent and impoverished, American or foreign born.
Labor or sex trafficking is defined as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services by the use of force, fraud, or coercion.” Drugs are often involved. The good news is, there is hope.
With increased awareness of the risks and the signs of trafficking, citizens can be more informed about what is happening right before our eyes. The Homeland Security Agency has created the Blue Campaign (https://www.dhs.gov/blue-campaign) that provides information on signs, numbers to call if you suspect abuse, and a host of resources available to help identify, stop, and prevent human trafficking.
The Collier County Anti-Trafficking Task Force works with law enforcement, social workers, and school resources to help identify and prosecute trafficking in our county.
Path2Freedom, serving child victims of commercial sex trafficking, provides a program to support and renew these victims who are still too young to defend themselves. The Shelter for Abused Women & Children recently opened a center in Immokalee for adult victims of labor and sex trafficking.
What about the girl mentioned above? She is Tammy Toney-Butler, now a vibrant, impressive 50-year-old advocate and sexual assault nurse, and she runs a unique faith based program for transformational healing of human trafficking victims called Reflective Spaces Ministry. She spoke recently to a group of Naples Woman’s Club members about her story and the story of others who still need saving. She has become an authority on sex trafficking and speaks nationwide on the issue, rising up from the tragedy that was her childhood.
The Naples Woman’s Club Empowering Women Committee seeks to help and empower women, including women facing abuse. As an active response to sex and human trafficking, the NWC has designed a 2022 spring event to further raise awareness of this scourge on our community. NWC will present “An Afternoon with Authors,” scheduled for April 14, featuring three best-selling fiction writers, Kate Quinn, Robert Dugoni, and Meg Waite Clayton, with net proceeds to benefit Path2Freedom.
For more information, go to Napleswomansclub.org.
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