Florida has one of the highest occurrences of human trafficking in the country. It is ranked in the top three – along with New York and California – of destinations for trafficking victims.
People of all ages and genders are separated from their families everyday and forced to work or commit sexual acts. They are abused and kept away from the outside world and their loved ones.
It’s an issue that many people believe doesn’t happen anymore, but the truth is that it can and it does.
There are, however, groups that have dedicated their time to combat this issue such as the International Justice Mission (IJM).
“IJM’s motto consists of four main steps: rescue, restore, restrain and represent. So, they don’t just work with rescuing victims,” Victoria Mischley, a sophomore majoring in chemistry and an IJM member, said. “They also work to change the justice system in countries where it’s really corrupt. They also restrain the trafficker and represent the victims in court.”
IJM at USF, the university’s chapter of the global human rights organization, is celebrating Justice Week, and to kick things off, they held their Brothel Exhibit on Monday. The event allowed students to walk into a simulated “brothel” and listen to two stories of sex and labor trafficking from the perspective of a male and female victim.
The exhibit was set up in a tent, made from huge sheets of plastic, on the library lawn. Before walking in, students could read facts about human trafficking that decorated the outside of the tent.
The outside of the makeshift tent may not have looked like a brothel, but the inside was made up to resemble one. It was split into two ‘rooms’, with blankets, a dress and makeup covering the floor of one room and roses on the floor of the other.
While side with the roses on the floor told the story of a boy forced to work in a rose farm away from his family, the other side symbolized the story of an Indian woman tricked into sex trafficking while trying to escape an abusive husband. Both stories ended with IJM saving them.
Abigail Parrigan, a junior majoring in marine biology and the president of IJM at USF, said she chose these two stories because she felt they were the ones that “people would relate with the most and are the most impactful”. She said that because not a lot of students may know about sex and labor trafficking, she wanted to choose stories that would tell students what they need to know.
She said that a couple signs to watch out for are nail salons and massage parlors open past 10 p.m. with blacked out windows.
“Just be aware of your surroundings and it’s so easy to pick up on,” said Parrigan.