Krista Ann Hoffman has spent more than 20 years combating human trafficking.
As a training and technical assistance consultant for the Booz Allen Hamilton strategy consulting firm and recognized expert on international criminal justice and trafficking, Hoffman has seen firsthand the unforgiving realities of one of the fastest-growing and most profitable crimes in the world.
During a Human Trafficking Awareness Month lecture presented by the Institute for the Study of Latin America and the Caribbean on Monday in the USF Library’s Grace Allen Room, Hoffman called for heightened awareness of the plight of millions worldwide who currently reside in captivity.
According to the U.S. Department of State, human trafficking generates an estimated profit of $32 billion per year, second only to drug trading. That’s more than several U.S. corporations, including Apple, Ford Motors and Exxon/Mobil.
While the revenue generated is staggering, Hoffman said the number of victims is even worse.
The Polaris Project, a nonprofit organization that works to fight illegal trafficking, estimates 27 million people around the world are currently being held in captivity, 2.5 million of whom reside in the U.S.
Florida has deep roots in the issue, ranking third nationally in the number of minors trafficked and forced into prostitution or sexually abused.
To Hoffman, that isn’t a surprise. The Tampa Bay area is widely known as a breeding ground for trafficking because of its variety of adult entertainment venues and Asian massage parlors, both of which are often red-flagged as potential “danger zones” for the activity.
“Florida is considered a hotbed for this,” Hoffman said. “You just have a lot of easy access. There are the borders, of course, with easy entry. You can come in from land, sea, air — all of that. Any place you have large transient population … you definitely have (trafficking).”
One of the biggest issues added to Hoffman’s fight in recent years with advancements in technology has been the Internet.
“Demand for sex trafficking has gone through the roof with technology,” Hoffman said. “It’s removed the fear of getting caught.”
Hoffman pointed to classified advertisement websites such as Craigslist and Backpage, where traffickers have been known to post profiles for adult services, as reasons for the spike.
In one particular case that Hoffman worked on recently in Pennsylvania, she stumbled upon a woman known as “Dallas” who had a post advertising sexual favors. In the woman’s profile picture, Hoffman noticed the words “Cash Money” tattooed on Dallas’ chest.
With additional digging, Hoffman found a similar post with a woman that had the same tattoo, a sign that they had been branded by the same captor.
After setting up a police sting operation, Dallas and the other woman were rescued. The man responsible for their kidnapping was arrested.
“We have to harness the good that does come with technology and just be as aware as possible,” Hoffman said. “We can use that technology for good.”
Although the world may never be completely rid of human trafficking, Hoffman said she hopes bringing more awareness to it will make a difference.
“I’ve seen lots and lots of progress with this,” Hoffman said. “Nothing is insurmountable.”