January is Human Trafficking Prevention Month, a presidentially designated observance intended to educate the public about human trafficking and what can be done to prevent and respond to it. Here’s the hard truth: human trafficking is happening in our community. It can look like forced labor and/ or sexual exploitation, and any vulnerable child or adult can be at risk.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ theme for Human Trafficking Prevention Month 2023 is “Partner to Prevent.” This highlights the power of partnerships and collaborations in strengthening anti-trafficking efforts across the country.
One of the most notable local organizations that has risen to the forefront of the anti-trafficking movement is Redefining Refuge, led by Natasha Nacimento. Through its specialized case management services, Redefining Refuge focuses on youth who have been victimized by commercial sexual exploitation by means of human trafficking and those who are at high-risk of commercial sexual exploitation.
Redefining Refuge restores hope, defends the innocence, and empowers our youth. Here, Natasha weighs in on what parents should know.
TBPM: The reality of human trafficking is people do not want to talk about it outside of an event that has been designated for this discussion. Therefore, the general public is mostly ill-informed and unprepared for anything that could be happening right in front of them or to them. What can be accomplished this month to raise awareness of human trafficking and make this conversation more mainstream?
NN: Although Redefining Refuge is mission-oriented toward ending the sex trafficking of children, we are of course passionate about disrupting any and all forms of human trafficking. With January being National Human Trafficking Awareness and Prevention Month, we try to focus heavily on Consumer Habits – especially in the realm of coffee and chocolate as these are products that we all consume daily.
What most people don’t know is that roughly 2% of coffees are Fair Trade, and less than 5% of cocoa is Fair Trade. In a nutshell, Fair Trade ensures worker’s rights, safer conditions, and fair wages. This is especially important because so much of the world’s coffee and cocoa comes from developing countries where there are little children working (approximately 1.56 million of them in cocoa alone according to a recent study by the Bureau of International Labor Affairs).
We highly, highly encourage consumers to buy Fair Trade items only!!!! It’s “a simple way to make a difference to the lives of the people who grow and create the things we love.” Check out the scorecards of your favorite brands this month to see where they rank in terms of certification. As recent as 2019, Godiva received an ‘F’ while popular brands like Hershey and Lindt a por ‘C’.
Your purchases matter – genuinely. Visit slaveryfootprint.org to see how your consumer habits are indirectly perpetuating human trafficking.
As far as the local level and our agency specifically, there is no real awareness without education – so use this month as an opportunity to learn. We are working on having those resources more readily available to the public via our website, but in the interim “A Path Appears” (Episode 1) can be viewed on Amazon as can “I am Jane Doe.’ These are both extremely informative in terms of how trafficking is happening to American children specifically, what vulnerabilities traffickers’ prey upon, and identifiers.
TBPM: What partnerships are needed now to increase access to services for people that are at risk or experiencing human trafficking?
NN: We cannot put enough emphasis on Training because there are trafficking victims hidden in plain sight daily, and we rely on the responsible reporting of our community (never directly intervene, always call Law Enforcement or the Child Abuse Hotline).
We’ve done trainings for personnel at Seminole Hard Rock, doctors at our local hospitals, airports, schools and service industries like hotels, spa type services, tattoo parlors, various sports commissions, convention center personnel as well as Judges, Attorneys, and Law Enforcement.
We also NEED more people in our community to consider Programs like the Guardian Ad Litem Program, fostering kiddos who are in state custody. Remember, no one can do everything, but everyone can do something.
Are you a hairdresser? Awesome – you get to hear all the things, so with a little education you’d easily be able to identify a potential victim. Are you the owner of a large corporation who is providing coffee to your staff each day? Great – make it Fair Trade.
It takes a village so we really do need “All Hands On Deck” across all industries to not only identify victims, but also to wrap them with restorative services.
TBPM: What is some of the most important information that parents should know about human trafficking so they can be a part of the movement to prevent it?
NN: Every parent should stop what that are doing right now and go and watch Childhood 2.0. – the full-length documentary that is available on YouTube. It’s an absolute must – really. Targeting and grooming children via social media, gaming apps, and electronic devices are becoming increasingly problematic.
It is estimated that there are as many as 500,000 predators on the internet daily! If your kiddos have access to social media, then their iTunes account should be connected to yours so that they aren’t able to download potentially dangerous apps, and platforms like Qustodio and Bark should be leveraged by parents for monitoring/parental controls.
TBPM: What resources could families access to foster an informative and safe conversation with children about human trafficking? What, ideally, should those discussions include?
NN: No one knows your children better than you, so conversations are going to be different in each home based on the sensitivity and maturity of your child. It’s extremely important, to me personally, that children are educated and aware, but not afraid of their environments or the world at large. We certainly need to get away from ‘stranger danger’ conversations because this is a very flawed concept. Over 90% of child abusers are known to the child.
For starters, we encourage parents to always speak openly about anatomy with their children and steer clear of giving their body parts cute nicknames. Research has repeatedly shown that by doing this, we inadvertently create shame and should someone violate them, they are less likely to disclose this.
Talk to your kiddos about their safety bubble, who’s allowed in it, and what’s appropriate behavior there (we are super excited as we have a book coming out soon about this).
Lastly, boundaries – boundaries, boundaries!!! Remember when we were little, and your Mom would say, “give Aunt Becky a hug or give Uncle Dan a kiss…”? Do not force your children to do anything like this at any time, and frankly, you don’t even have to encourage it. Rather, say things like “do you want to give Aunt Becky a hug?” – allowing them the choice when it comes to their physical autonomy.
TBPM: What can you share about Redefining Refuge’s impact on the prevention of human trafficking in Tampa Bay and beyond?
NN: Historically we have been extremely reactive to the problem because of the large number of children who have or are being trafficked and require immediate intervention and services. In the last several years however, we have proudly conducted over 20,000 trainings across dozens of industries educating and empowering folks with the knowledge they need to potentially circumvent this from ever happening in the first place.
TBPM: What inspired you to make this your life’s work?
NN: Gosh, it completely and utterly interrupted by heart, mind, and soul. I worked in Finance and innocently attended a Community Alliance Meeting at the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County in 2008 – partially because I was personally seeking volunteer opportunities, but also because I wanted to vet organizations that my clients could direct resources too.
This is when I found out that CHILDREN were being arrested for prostitution. The mere thought that the law was written in such a way that a child being violated and seeing a police officer offer wasn’t there to rescue and protect them, but to punish them further just crushed me. That just had to change. These laws were antiquated and assumed that ‘prostitution’ was voluntary. This lit a flame that ultimately created Redefining Refuge two years later.
TBPM: How can the Tampa Bay community support your efforts with Redefining Refuge?
NN: In October we announced the next phase of our organization which will be a Community Resiliency Center for the kiddos we serve. We envision it looking like the Glazer Children’s Museum where local and national companies take a vested interest in not just the building, but the lives that will be changed there. We will need it all – Life Skills Teachers, Tutors, Counselors, Interior Designers. We want this to be a Community Project and a means of connecting our kids with the amazing people who we get to share Tampa with!