Knights for Social Justice hosts Human Trafficking Awareness Week

Tomas Lares of Florida Abolitionist and Greater Orlando Human Trafficking Task Force speaks during the community leader discussion panel on Tuesday. Lares was one of five community leaders that spoke at the event.

The Knights for Social Justice, with the help from a few teachers in the sociology department, hosted a Human Trafficking Awareness Week to shed light on an issue that has been a problem plaguing the Orlando area. 

Knights for Social Justice is a registered student organization at UCF founded by sociology students for the purpose of advancing social justice caucuses in the local community.

The week consisted of informational tabling that took place Monday in the Student Union and a panel discussion focused on the steps being taken by local law enforcement and task forces to end human trafficking. Events concluded on Wednesday with a showing of the documentary “I am Jane Doe,” which follows real cases of girls stuck in sex trades across the country.

The Knights for Social Justice’s founding president Jackie Fernandez-Reiss, event coordinator and UCF master's student, talked about the importance of getting the message out there. 

“There’s a whole hidden population of victims that we don’t know about,” Fernandez-Reiss said.

Fernandez-Reiss will be graduating with her master's degree in sociology this summer and will be starting the doctoral program in sociology in the fall.

Fernandez-Reiss started Knights for Social Justice a year ago out of the Sociology Department. The RSO was originally intended for researchers who examine social inequalities to work together and bring awareness to the inequalities seen in their research.

In 2017, Orlando ranked third in the nation for the highest number of reports to the national human trafficking hotline, per the Greater Orlando Human Trafficking Task Force.

Although there’s no concrete data to support this claim, it is widely accepted, according to Fernandez-Reiss.

The claim was reiterated by many of the researchers there.

“We really don’t know how many victims and how many traffickers there are out there because it’s a hidden crime,” Fernandez-Reiss said. “It’s really hard to find and identify.”

Community leader Tomas Lares believe that Orlando is a prime place for this type of exploitation due to the rapid growth in population, tourism and the transient nature of many of the people that live here.

Lares was one of the speakers in the panel discussion that took place on Tuesday. He is the founder and executive director of Florida Abolitionist, a regional nonprofit organization devoted to eradicating the problem of human trafficking. 

Lares touched on a multitude of issues — including the role that men play as victims of sexual trafficking.

“The suicide rate amongst young men is high because of the shame it brings,” Lares said. “We have to stand up, and it doesn’t matter who you are — you are not a victim, you’re a survivor."

While sex trafficking is the biggest section of human trafficking, it is not the only kind.

Many of the researchers, including professor Lin Huff-Corzine and first-year doctoral student Madelyn Diaz, stressed the fact there are other types of human trafficking that deserve attention, such as labor and body part trafficking.

Labor trafficking is the use of people for labor purposes, while body part trafficking deals with particular body parts such as kidneys and livers.

“80 percent of victims identified by law enforcement are victims of sex trafficking," Diaz said. "That's why you hear more about it in comparison with labor and body part trafficking."

Huff-Corzine said labor and body part trafficking are both important as well. Especially with Florida’s labor issues in the citrus industry.

Human trafficking is defined as “a form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers use force, fraud or coercion to control victims for the purpose of unwillingly engaging in commercial sex acts or labor services,” according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

Diaz talked about the importance of this definition when defining the crime itself for law enforcement and research purposes.

“Force, fraud and coercion are important elements when it comes to defining human trafficking,” Diaz said.

Human trafficking is a national problem as it has been reported in all 50 states and affects every community, age, gender, ethnicity and socio-economic background, according to the hotline. 

Huff-Corzine said she believes it is truly a matter of life and death.

“You can sell a gun once, you can sell drugs once, but you can sell a person many times in one day — and that’s what’s happening," Huff-Corzine said.

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