PINELLAS COUNTY (February 3, 2021) — Residents and visitors to the Tampa Bay area may have noticed recent television spots, billboards, and more related to Human Trafficking (HT). Large events like the Super Bowl present prime opportunities to raise awareness against human trafficking – which is a pressing issue in our community year round.
While there is significant awareness about sex trafficking, it should be known that labor trafficking is also pervasive in the Tampa Bay area. Labor trafficking is a form of human trafficking where victims are compelled to perform a task through force, fraud, or coercion. Of the 76 Human Trafficking survivors that local legal nonprofit Gulfcoast Legal Services (GLS) assisted in 2020, 79% experienced labor trafficking . GLS has seen human trafficking across a wide range of industries and trades, not limited to:
Assisted Living Staff
Farmworkers / Crop-pickers
Processing Plant Workers
Convenience Store Employees
Janitors / Housekeepers
Cargo Ship Crew
Human trafficking presents in limitless ways. It can happen in any industry to any age, race, or gender. Common warning signs that someone might be subjected to human trafficking include: Working excessive hours or when sick, harsh or unsafe working conditions, receiving less pay than promised or working to pay a debt, restrictions on movement or close supervision, lack of access to identity documents, isolation, inhumane living conditions, threats against the worker or their family, injuries or signs of abuse, or a person under 18 working in the commercial sex industry. None of these warning signs are required for someone to be a victim of human trafficking.
“Despite the increased barriers to service created by the pandemic, we identified more survivors of human trafficking in 2020 than in 2019,” said Jacquelyn Bradford, Senior Supervising Attorney for Human Trafficking at GLS. “Identifying labor and sex trafficking often involves lengthy and in-depth client interviews. Survivors rarely recognize themselves as victims of human trafficking.”
“Every year is challenging for our clients, however 2020 was exceptional,” said Bradford. “Most of our clients are trapped in a vicious cycle of trafficking-induced financial instability, and the impact of the pandemic has worsened this significantly. It also exacerbated many clients’ post-traumatic stress disorder. Thankfully, many clients received T Visas, empowering them to work lawfully and access services they need to recover from their victimization. T Visas are an immigration benefit that allows victims of human trafficking to remain in the United States, access public benefits, and reunite with certain family members. Through this process, many GLS clients reunited with spouses, children, and siblings that they hadn’t seen in years.”
Even as immigration cases are taking longer, GLS has documented many successful cases in which its clients obtained legal immigration status based on their trafficking victimization or other forms of immigration relief.
Immigrant survivors may be able to obtain a visa to remain in the U.S. legally. All survivors of human trafficking may be eligible for additional assistance from GLS including help with family law issues such as divorces and child support, as well as housing and financial stability services. Those interested in learning more can call GLS at (800) 230-5920.
Tampa Bay residents are encouraged to print and share Gulfcoast Legal Services’s “Blue Card” to help survivors in our community find help and support (available at https://gulfcoastlegal.org/human-trafficking).
This news release was produced by Gulfcoast Legal Services, Inc. under Project Number 2018-VT-BX-0005, awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed here are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.
About Gulfcoast Legal Services
Gulfcoast Legal Services, Inc. (GLS) is a regional 501(c)3 nonprofit organization providing free, comprehensive civil legal aid through counsel, advice, representation, advocacy, and education for vulnerable individuals and families in the greater Tampa Bay area. GLS is dedicated to serving vulnerable individuals living in poverty, low-wage workers, persons with disabilities, veterans, the homeless, victims of domestic violence or human trafficking, the LGBTQ+ community, and the elderly who otherwise may not have access to an attorney. For more information, visit: http://gulfcoastlegal.org.