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‘Shine a Light on Slavery Day’: Local photographer aims to spark conversation about human trafficking

Published: Feb. 25, 2021 at 11:09 PM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - On Thursday, people from all over came together for National Shine a Light on Slavery Day by marking their hands with a red “X” to raise awareness.

Modern-day slavery generally comes in two forms: labor trafficking and sex trafficking. One local photographer is making it his mission to bring the community together in an effort to raise awareness and spark conversation.

“The goal to help raise awareness that this is something that occurs not only around the world, but right here in our community,” Alex Workman told WCTV’s Katie Kaplan. “In the back of my mind, I thought, ‘Man, what’s one thing we can all agree on?’”

Workman has spent the last several weeks creating free pop-up studios throughout Tallahassee to photograph people donning the red “X.” He hopes the #EndItTLH project will encourage people to post the photographs to their respective social media accounts to create a conversation starter.

“It’s only February and it’s already been a very divisive year, but one thing I think we can all agree on, is that people should never be sold,” said Workman.

His project has brought together all types of people, from state-level advocates and crisis managers to local leaders and community members.

”Exploitation happens every day throughout our communities every year,” said Erin Collins, the Director of the non-profit Florida Alliance to End Human Trafficking, which was created by the state legislature in recent years. ”Victims on average are individuals between the ages of 12-14 years.”

Some people might be surprised to hear human trafficking is happening not only in Florida, but in their very own communities

”Trafficking happens everywhere. It can happen to anybody regardless of age, race, gender, socioeconomic status or place,” said Robyn Metcalf, the statewide director of the Voices For Florida Open Doors Outreach Network, a 24/7/365 network of care for victims and survivors of sex trafficking. “I would just say awareness is key. Sex trafficking can happen in every zip code in Leon County.”

The issue is prevalent. The National Human Trafficking Hotline reports that it receives the third-most number of calls from the state of Florida.

“The only way we can save them, the only way we can eradicate this heinous crime, is if people in the community, our businesses, work with law enforcement report those symptoms and that information so that we can save lives,” said Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody.

Moody said awareness is key and targeted efforts to educate the public in recent years have paid off. A recent example can be the November arrest of 178 people connected to a human trafficking ring in Tallahassee. Moody said she is grateful for people, like Workman, who are helping to promote awareness

Advocates say you can help in the fight against human trafficking by educating yourself and learning about the signs that someone may be in distress.

According to The National Human Trafficking Hotline, some signs of trafficking are as follows:

Labor trafficking includes situations where men, women, and children are forced to work because of debt, immigration status, threats and violence. Keeping victims isolated — physically or emotionally — is a key method of control in most labor trafficking situations. But that does not mean you never cross paths with someone who is experiencing trafficking.

Someone may be experiencing labor trafficking or exploitation if they:

  • Feel pressured by their employer to stay in a job or situation they want to leave
  • Owe money to an employer or recruiter or are not being paid what they were promised or are owed
  • Do not have control of their passport or other identity documents
  • Are living and working in isolated conditions, largely cut off from interaction with others or support systems
  • Appear to be monitored by another person when talking or interacting with others
  • Are being threatened by their boss with deportation or other harm
  • Are working in dangerous conditions without proper safety gear, training, adequate breaks, or other protections
  • Are living in dangerous, overcrowded, or inhumane conditions provided by an employer

Sex trafficking occurs when individuals are made to perform commercial sex through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. Any child under 18 who is involved in commercial sex is legally a victim of trafficking, regardless of whether there is a third party involved.

Someone may be experiencing sex trafficking if they:

  • Want to stop participating in commercial sex but feel scared or unable to leave the situation.
  • Disclose that they were reluctant to engage in commercial sex but that someone pressured them into it.
  • Live where they work or are transported by guards between home and workplace.
  • Are children who live with or are dependent on a family member with a substance use problem or who is abusive.
  • Have a “pimp” or “manager” in the commercial sex industry.
  • Work in an industry where it may be common to be pressured into performing sex acts for money, such as a strip club, illicit cantina, go-go bar, or illicit massage business.
  • Have a controlling parent, guardian, romantic partner, or “sponsor” who will not allow them to meet or speak with anyone alone or who monitors their movements, spending, or communications.

Additional resources can be found here.

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