By Christine Commerce, Human Trafficking Task Force Coordinator – May 2019

As the summer approaches, and the question looms “what am I going to do with my kids,” be aware that traffickers always look for opportunities to take advantage of our youth.

Those who are most vulnerable are usually those who are from low-income communities who may be looking for ways to keep their teens off the streets. Summer camps can be pricey and are not always an option for those who struggling to make ends meet.

So, when Teens Against Drugs and Alcohol presented itself as a program that would keep their children off the streets and help “young people from all backgrounds become more responsible citizens,” it sounded like a great opportunity for many parents to enroll their kids. The website provided a parental consent form, but it was not clear how much parents knew about the conditions the teens worked under.

Instead of gaining valuable job skills and keeping their kids off the streets, the teens walked the streets, working 12-hour days selling trinkets door to door. A van picked them up from their Orlando neighborhoods early in the morning, drove to Palm Bay and often didn’t return until close to midnight. Food and water were rationed. The unsafe conditions were further exacerbated by having them go into neighborhoods with registered sex offenders, and girls were made to pull their bras away from their chests to see if money would fall out.

It was the actions of a concerned Palm Bay resident that brought justice to two men charged with trafficking and the realization that this “opportunity” was just another way traffickers exploit our youth.

According to Palm Bay Police, the men forced two dozen children, some as young as 12, to sell cheap merchandise. The men used two vans with cage-like, plywood compartments. They took all the money earned but eventually found themselves charged with 24 counts of human trafficking.

Here are some tips if you suspect a child may be a victim of child trafficking:

  • Don’t invite them in but do engage them in conversation to learn more.
  • They most likely will have a scripted response but try to dig deeper.
  • Where do they go to school?
  • What grade are they in?
  • Ask for details on what they are fundraising for?

If you are suspicious, offer to get them a drink of water, step away and call 911. In the case of these youth, many of them were dehydrated and were given little food or water as they were exploited.

To report suspected child abuse, call the Department of Children & Families Hotline at 800-373-7888. To report signs of human trafficking, call 888-373-7888. To learn more about signs and ways to help, schedule a free presentation with the Diocese of Orlando Human Trafficking Task Force. You can also attend DOHTTF training on May 18 from 8:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. at Catholic Charities, 1819 N. Semoran Blvd. Please RSVP. For more information or to RSVP, call 407-658-1818, Ext. 1122 or email ccommerce@cflcc.org.

Remember, if you see something, say something.