TAMPA — The Tampa Bay area ranks third in the nation for human trafficking, and local people are coming together to change that unenviable standing.
At a rally downtown on Saturday, the Junior League of Tampa and more than 90 other local organizations and agencies celebrated the kickoff of the Abolish Movement, a campaign meant to raise awareness and eliminate child sex slavery in Bay area communities.
A small crowd gathered at Lykes Gaslight Park for the event, which included food trucks and a live band, and a candlelight vigil to mark the start of the campaign and a month of events meant to promote the cause.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn read a proclamation recognizing January as national Human Trafficking Awareness Month.
As the mayor of Tampa and the father of two girls, he said he wants to hear no more about children being abused or forced into prostitution.
“That has got to stop,” he told the gathering. “As far as I'm concerned, in this town, that begins today.”
The first step to solving the problem, Buckhorn said, is to recognize there is one and get the word out.
The purpose of the Abolish Movement is to educate adults and children about the signs of child sex slavery, and what to do when they recognize it, said Dotti Groover-Skipper, chairwoman of the Community Campaign Against Human Trafficking of Tampa Bay.
Human trafficking is the illegal holding of people against their will and selling or renting them out for involuntary sex or labor. Child sexual slavery caters to pedophiles and is international in scope.
This is the first time these community groups have united under one banner to address the problem locally, Groover-Skipper said. The campaign partners include Hillsborough County, the City of Tampa, law enforcement officials and various churches and ministries.
The AD2 advertising firm donated all of the branding and design work for the campaign, which Groover-Skipper hopes will spread statewide. This year, she said, the campaign will focus on child sex slavery. Perhaps next year it will focus on labor trafficking.
“We're not going anywhere,” she said about the groups. “This is just the beginning.”
Find out more about the campaign and other Abolish events at www.abolishmovement.com.