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Events planned for Human Trafficking Awareness Month

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image June Wallace

Awareness video to be shown Jan. 12

For the whole month of January, Janet Cardulla is collecting necessities for rescued victims of human trafficking. Cardulla, the president of the Sun City Center Community Campaign Against Human Trafficking, says just about anything people can donate is needed, from toiletries to underwear.

The Sun City Center group is an offshoot of the Tampa Bay Community Campaign, which June Wallace, also a resident of Sun City Center, founded after taking special training from law enforcement officials.

Wallace has been a resident of South County since 2011, coming from Largo, where she had won awards for her activity against human trafficking.

“People don’t realize that Florida is one of the three worst states for trafficking of this kind,” Wallace said in an interview Jan. 4. “There are more than 100,000 children attacked by sex traffickers every year and at least 200,000 more at risk [nationally].”

The other two states with the highest numbers are Texas and California.

The Tampa Bay group covers all of Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties and works closely with the cities of Tampa, Clearwater and St. Petersburg, she said.

It is active year round, developing and implementing programs to keep children and teens safe and rescue those who have been captured.

Sometimes victims, especially teenage girls who have not been cared for by their parents properly, develop what has become known as the Stockholm Syndrome. They develop a loyalty and may even think they are in love with their captors because they are the ones who give them food and shelter (and often drugs) when they behave as they are told, which usually means working as prostitutes.

In September, WEDU public television got a grant of $100,000 from the Allegany Franciscan Ministries to produce the documentary Too Close to Home, about human trafficking in Tampa Bay. Because January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month, the video will be shown Sunday, Jan. 12 at 2 p.m.  at the Firehouse Cultural Center in Ruskin. Two speakers will also be on hand. First, Wallace will explain the problem, and then trafficking survivor Connie Rose will give a talk about her experience.

On Saturday, Jan. 18, from 10 a.m. to noon, “Change the World Day” — an event subtitled Keeping Our Children Safe — will be held at the United Methodist Church in Sun City Center, and on Thursday, Jan. 23, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the SouthShore Library, people can hear about and discuss programs that are being implemented in schools and after-school programs to keep local children safe.

“One of the big things that is happening right now is that Misty Sherwood [a local resident] has gone through the training to give the program in schools, but the teachers can’t do it alone, they are just too busy,” Wallace said.

They need volunteers to train for this, and also to read and help children with their reading skills, especially at Ruskin Elementary School.

“We saw how Wimauma Elementary went from a D school to an A school when the Hope Fund started mentoring and helping there,” Wallace said. “The mentoring and reading and keeping children safe can all be done if we can get enough people willing to go into the school in Ruskin.”

That school went from an A school to a D school, she said, showing a state grade sheet.

The Hope Fund was the brainchild of Carla Miles, begun about 10 years ago to help underprivileged children in the Wimauma-Balm area who used the schools and parks programs there.

“Frances Herford of the Ruskin Woman’s Club is getting her club involved, but the problem is so large we need everyone we can get,” Wallace continued.

Bob Devagno who does the sex education program at Wimauma Elementary has invited “Speak Up and Be Safe” talks to be given in his class, and volunteers are also needed for that, she said.

“Speak Up and Be Safe” is a program developed by the Monique Burr Foundation for Children Inc., a nonprofit organization established in memory of the late Monique Burr, who was a passionate advocate of abused and abandoned children.

The average age for abduction is 12, with children as young as 8 being taken every day.

While “Speak Up and Be Safe” is going to be given in elementary schools, a video called Chosen will be used in high schools and one called Carissa, a documentary about a “throw-away child,” will be shown in local detention centers.

Another documentary called Trust is about children being lured on computers.

“One girl was promised she’d be a movie star,” Wallace said. “There are people out there stalking children on the computer all the time.”

The thing that is most needed besides volunteer help is a shelter for rescued victims, Wallace explained, showing an architectural rendering of a whole complex. “It needs to be set back to be safe, yet not too far away from town.”

About 80 to 100 acres are needed for this. “Often the police have no place to put them once they rescue them. Many can’t go home — a lot are throw-aways whose parents don’t care for them, and others are runaways because of abuse.

“They need a place to go where they can feel safe while they get used to the real world again,” she said.

Anyone who suspects human trafficking in any of the three counties served by the Clearwater/Tampa Bay Area Task Force on Human Trafficking may call 727-562-4917 or visit www.CATFHT.org or call the national trafficking hotline at 888-373-7888.

Locally, those who want to help may contact Wallace, at junemwallace@gmail.com.

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