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 advancing the status of 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 $32 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 8 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”.
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. (See Mission on this page.) Since that time, HTAP has provided services, trainings and programs to thousands of people and hundreds of organizations.
Who Is HTAP?
- Two women who spearheaded the formation of original Lee County, FL community task force,
- Anti-Trafficking leaders of local Zonta Clubs,
- A social worker and director of a human service programs at a university in Nevada,
- A retired ophthalmologist who has performed free eye surgery as missionary in the Phillipines and Central and South America for 27 years, sponsored by Rotary and Zonta Clubs,
- A woman with years of experience coordinating volunteers and fundraising for non-profits,
- A lawyer who has worked with non-profits across the nation,
- A lawyer who studied human rights in South Africa who has worked with an US Attorney who is a leading expert in human trafficking and who currently practices law in Washington, DC.
- An accountant who has worked for many charitable foundations.
- The President of the Institute of Human Rights based in South Florida.
We also have a large Advisory Board consisting of community leaders from around the country whom we have helped form their own task forces as well as law enforcement and service provider specialists from around the country and Canada.
We are currently looking for additional board members. It is through cooperation and the pooling of talents that we can eradicate slavery.
Nola Theiss, the founder of HTAP, is its Executive Director. She is the founding Chair of what is now known as the SWFL Regional Coalition Against Human Trafficking. She has won numerous awards for her work in promoting human trafficking awareness. She has spoken to over 22,000 people in audiences ranging from middle school students to Members of the Canadian Parliament, from the U.N. to college campuses to churches and outdoor festivals to missing children groups to addiction service conferences.
In March, 2013, she was invited to speak at a UN Commission on the Status of Women Parallel Event on trafficking in the United States. In 2006 Theiss and HTAP board member, Karen Pati, spoke at an international conference in Melbourne, Australia and in Nassau, Bahamas in September, 2005 as well as in many cities in the United States, including Lawrence, KS; Austin, TX; New York City, NY; Troy, AL; Oklahoma City, OK; Hilton Head, SC; Lisle, IL; Raleigh, NC; Colorado Springs, CO; Birmingham, AL; Glens Falls, NY; Philadelphia, PA; Bangor, ME and many Florida cities. She has also spoken to groups in Canada and Poland. These events range from task force organizing events, bar association conferences, probation officer conferences, film festivals and panel discussions on community efforts.
She has spoken about human trafficking to over 24000 people in six countries and has been quoted in numerous newspaper and television and radio shows including, BBC”s “World Have Your Say”. She has also taught 16 community organization trainings through the FL Regional Community Policing Institute and has spoken to many professional conferences for paralegals, probation officers, social workers, forensic investigators, etc. She works with faith based organizations which are building anti-trafficking projects within their churches and denominations as well as women’s organizations such as Soroptimist International, Zonta International, DAR, and Association of University Women and many professional organizations.
In 2013 alone, Nola presented at a U.N. Commission on the Status of Women Parallel Event, the Tenth Annual National Prostitution and Sex Trafficking Conference in Toledo, Ohio, the Zonta North American Interdistrict Conference in Niagara Falls, Ontario as well as numerous events in schools, churches and local conferences throughout Florida. She serves as the Outreach and Training Coordinator of the Southwest Florida Regional Human Trafficking Coalition and has done trainings to businesses, afterschool programs and medical facilities to name a few.
Human trafficking can best be combated through public awareness and action. As Nola says, victims come first, but first you have to find the victims. Public awareness and outreach find victims. As Doug Molloy, assistant US Attorney in Fort Meyers has said, “One reason we have seen more arrests here in Lee County than in some states is because the community is aware of the problem”. The anti-trafficking campaign in SW Florida has been “outstanding”, according to Molloy. The work done in SW Florida is featured in three docudramas, Hallmark’s “Lives for Sale” and Compassion Film’s “Cargo: Innocence Lost” and the HHS “Look Beneath the Surface” video.
Awareness is an important part of the fight against trafficking, but once people are made aware, they also need to take action. Nola ends many presentations by telling people not to ask themselves, “What Can I Do?” but instead to ask “What Will I Do”? Prevention programs are also essential which is why HTAP has developed its ARTREACH program which reaches young people who could become victims of trafficking.
Theiss is the former mayor of Sanibel, FL and holds a Masters in Public Administration as well as degrees from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Illinois. For 9 years, she has dedicated herself to the issue of human trafficking – fighting it through public awareness and using the skills she has developed through her work as an educator, writer, administrator, public official and scholar. She has received numerous awards including national recognition as a Purpose Prize Fellow and Public Citizen Award from the National Association of Social Workers, Florida Chapter.
We currently have 3 employees plus the Executive Director.
Yvonne Luckett is our Operations Coordinator: Yvonne@humantraffickingawareness.org
Allison Martins is our Program Coordinator: Allison@humantraffickingawareness.org
Yvonne Hill is our Development Coordinator: email@example.com
In addition we rely on many volunteers and actively participate in the Community Engagement Program at Florida Gulf Coast University who assist with our programs, fundraisers and awareness events and other special projects. Service groups, such as local Zonta International Clubs often participate in our service programs. As more and more people hear about our programs, they want to help.
Regionally, we work in collaboration with the many organizations and members of the Southwest Florida Regional Coalition Against Human Trafficking. Our Executive Director spearheaded the original coalition and has held leadership positions since its inception. She currently holds the position of Director of Outreach and Training. These collaborations mean that personnel of these agencies as well as volunteers and HTAP often work together on programs, such as Point of Contact, Point of Rescue. Youth groups such as the Heights Foundation, Boys and Girls Club, Our Mothers Home, EDGE and other similar organizations work with HTAP on youth programs such as ARTREACH and TIPS. We also work with the local school district and private schools, the Lee Memorial Health System and local and federal law enforcement and our Executive Director serves as the liaison between the Lee County Human Trafficking Task Force run by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the SWFL Regional Coalition Against Human Trafficking.
As part of our mission, we actively work with many community coalitions in other parts of the U.S. and Canada and serve as an advisor, speaker and facilitator as requested. We provide trainings, workshops and presentations. Call us to discuss the possibilities.