In Central Florida, we continue to build collaborative solutions to combat human trafficking. United Abolitionists and Aspire Health Partners have worked together over the past decade to support the long-term recovery of survivors, but needed community support and awareness to have a greater impact.
Data show that victims of human trafficking often experience other forms of abuse or neglect, including physical, emotional and sexual abuse, before becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation. Often, they are recruited into trafficking by those they trust most — family members, caregivers, employers and close associates.
This complex trauma leaves a lifelong scar on all survivors, who often already struggle with drug addiction, unmet medical needs, and serious mental health issues—often exacerbated by human trafficking.
Awareness, prevention and intervention are essential to stop this crisis. This includes a systematic, comprehensive, trauma-informed and person-centred approach to supporting survivors.
Just this past Christmas weekend, United Abolitionists received a call from detectives from the local sheriff’s office to the hotline. She came across a young woman who had been raped by a cartel and forcibly transported across multiple states for the sex trade in the past month.
As part of our joint agreement, United Abolitionist Advocates coordinated with law enforcement to immediately free the victim from the hotel where she was being held. She was then taken directly to Aspire Health Partners for a medical exam and transferred to a specialized inpatient treatment program to begin her journey to recovery. This cooperation is key to the safety and well-being of every survivor.
United Abolitionists connects survivors and refers them to treatment, while Aspire provides detoxification services; residential substance abuse services; outpatient HIV support/prevention, mental health counseling, medication and case management. In addition, survivors can be placed into a short-term residential program immediately after identification. This helps them achieve safety, stability and reintegration into the safe community.
In 2017, United Abolitionists founder Tomas Lares and Central Florida Victim Services Executive Director Lui Damiani spoke before the Orange County Commission and former Mayor Teresa Jacobs on the urgent need for 24/7 short-term housing Human Trafficking in Adults Women Survivors Program.
The committee unanimously approved the request, and Aspire Health Partners was awarded the contract to open and operate the facility through a competition. Since January 2018, the program has helped approximately 250 women.
Regrettably, however, awareness of this crisis has waned amid the many other health, financial and environmental crises Florida has faced in recent years, allowing traffickers to easily target and exploit victims.
Fortunately, the young woman from the Christmas weekend arrived safely. But others who are exploited are often afraid to speak out — and for many, trying to break free could cost them their lives.
We must do more to help these victims escape and heal from unimaginable trauma.
We can increase access to hotlines and safe spaces where vulnerable people can seek help without fear. We can also demand tougher sanctions on traffickers; reduce the availability of substances and drugs used to exploit and abuse victims; train emergency medical providers to recognize the signs and symptoms; Related group home.
In the end, we must all be alert to the warning signs of exploitation and do our part to report them. If you suspect that someone is at imminent risk of human trafficking, call 911 immediately. If trafficking involves a minor, contact the Florida Department of Children and Families at 1-800-96-ABUSE (22873). You can also contact the United Abolitionists Hotline at 407-504-1319 or Aspire Health Partners at 407-875-3700 for assistance.
Together we can save lives.
Babette Hankey is President and Chief Executive Officer of Aspire Health Partners. Tomas Lares is the founder and president of United Abolitionists Inc.