BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. — Why promote Human Trafficking Awareness Day for an entire month? Well, because it's happening all around us.
In fact, according to Freedom Fighters founder Jenny Pruett, it's so prevalent that chances are you've met someone who was a victim of it without knowing it.
- U.S. State Department: 24.9 million people victimized each year
- Space Coast considered 'ideal' by traffickers for ease of access to air, boat travel
- More Brevard County stories
Pruett, who owns coffee shop Juice 'N Java Cafe in Cocoa Beach, says tourist destinations like the Space Coast are ideal places for traffickers to set up shop because so many people come and go from the region every day, plus it features easy access to planes and boats, along with many hotels.
That's why all proceeds from Pruett's Freedom Fighter campaign go towards ending the trade of selling people for money.
“There is something inside of us that wants us to be loved and that leaves a vulnerability when people are abused, so my heart hurts for that,” Pruett said.
Photo credit: Krystel Knowles
Schools promoting awareness
Melbourne High School teacher Michele Parent says she knew freshmen in high school who fell victim to human trafficking, and said teenagers are especially vulnerable. Brevard Public Schools will air ten different PSA's two a day until the end of the month addressing human trafficking.
“I had two students that were rescued and sent back to school and truly, how do you come back from a high school and be a normal teenager after that?” Parent says.
Parent turned a class project on the subject into a movement. Her classroom is the first high school Zonta Club in Brevard, an organization empowers women through service and advocacy.
She says most people don't know human trafficking is happening in their backyards.
“They said to me, we didn't know it was here, we thought it was third world countries," Parent explained. "These are children, boys and girls, like child marriages in other nations that Zonta International fights."
Statewide efforts to fight human trafficking
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, in Florida there were about 767 human trafficking cases reported in 2018.
Gov. Ron DeSantis took action over the summer, signing legislation that makes it mandatory for hospitality and medical employees to go through training on spotting and reporting human trafficking.
That law takes effect in January of next year. Businesses that don't comply face fines up to $2,000 per day.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of State reports that globally 24.9 million people fall victim to human trafficking and 77 percent of these are victims in their own country.
“You can make a difference, every single dollar matters, every single person aware matters,” Pruett said.
If you'd like to have Freedom Fighters merchandise in your store to help raise awareness and funds, go to https://juicenjavacafe.com/freedom-fighter.
To find out more about Zonta Club in Melbourne, visit https://zontaspacecoast.org/about/.
Photo credit: Krystel Knowles