How did HTAP begin?
In June of 2004, a group of women on Sanibel Island, Florida, decided that they wanted to learn about human trafficking. The organization they belonged to, Zonta International, a worldwide organization of professional women and business executives with a mission of empowering women worldwide, was working on the issue in Bosnia-Herzegovina and they researched the issue to see if it existed in their community.
To their astonishment, they discovered that Florida was ranked as one of top three states in terms of cases of human trafficking in the nation. They learned that trafficking was a $150 billion dollar international criminal industry, second only to drug trafficking. They continued to research the issue and invited the local sheriff to breakfast to discuss the possibility of setting up a county task force and they took responsibility for organizing the first meeting.
A few months later, the first task force meeting was held and over 80 law enforcement, service providers, service club members, concerned citizens and media came. At that first meeting, a service provider realized that one of the residents of her foster care home fit the criteria of a trafficking victim and that another young woman who was in the foster care system with all the signs of being a trafficking victim. Three weeks later, four people were arrested on charges of human trafficking and soon the second young victim received her certification as a trafficking victim, entitling her to rights under the Trafficking Victim Protection Act of 2000. She was soon moved to the group home along with her baby.
Since that first meeting 10 years ago, the Coalition has been meeting and the members have been working together. Most importantly, the spirit of cooperation among law enforcement, service providers, community members and the media has led to rescues, arrests and prosecution and has been emulated by other communities as they form their own task forces. As Asst. US Attorney Doug Molloy says, “Because of heightened public awareness in Lee County, we have had more cases come to light than in most states”. The Southwest Florida Regional Human Trafficking Coalition is the direct outcome of that first Task Force meeting in 2005.
Since traffickers do not honor regional boundaries, information is shared by multiple jurisdictions, encouraging and even requiring cooperation. Successful outcomes are always a group effort, especially in dealing with Human Trafficking.
In 2006, when literally dozens of organizations approached our founder to help start their own community task forces, Human Trafficking Awareness Partnerships was founded. Since that time, HTAP has provided services, trainings and programs to thousands of people and hundreds of organizations.