Leaders Learn Impact of Human Trafficking; A Task Force Has Been Studying the Modern-Day Slavery

Article excerpt

Byline: DAN SCANLAN

We see them everywhere, yet never notice, say the experts.

A nanny shopping at the store with bruises on her arms may be one, coerced to come to Jacksonville from another country with promises of freedom. Or there is the maid threatened with deportation if she tries to escape.

These are the faces of those exploited for sex or labor, their stories presented to members of law enforcement agencies, nonprofit organizations, churches and other walks of life during Human Trafficking Awareness Week in Jacksonville Jan. 22-25.

Hosted by the Northeast Florida Human Trafficking Task Force, made up of many of those agencies, it was set up to find ways to identify and rescue victims of human trafficking in the region. Stani Bodenbender, Network of Emergency Trafficking Services program coordinator for World Relief-Jacksonville, was one of its organizers. World Relief-Jacksonville is part of the worldwide faith-based organization. The local office opened in 1991 to handle refugee resettlement.

A Czech Republic native who came here eight years ago to work as a nanny, Bodenbender said she knows what might have happened if she hadn't had a great family to work for.

Now dozens of people who can help the battle against this new form of slavery are learning how to.

"We wanted to bring this issue to life. A lot of people don't believe it occurs. They think slavery was eradicated years ago," Bodenbender said. "We were trying to come up with events that would target the professional and the general public to get the basic idea of what trafficking is and what to do."

Human trafficking usually involves forcing immigrant teens and women into sex for money. According to information from the Department of Homeland Security and federal immigration officials, at least 700,000 people a year are victims of trafficking within or across international borders.

About 50,000 of those are forced into the United States each year, many brought here by force, fraud or coercion. …