Human trafficking is a problem in Florida. According to data, there were more than 2,500 contacts, or tips, in 2020 and 738 cases.
Three Collier County leaders want to see those numbers go down. Their goal is to rescue victims and prosecute the sellers and buyers, and they hope to do it with a new model called ISP.
Sheriff Kevin Rambosk said he want to prevent the situation from ever occurring.
Linda Oberhaus is the CEO of The Shelter for Abused Woman & Children in Naples. She said, “We want to be able to provide the support that they need so they can prevail and move on with their lives.”
ISP stands for identity, support, and prosecute.
“It would be our sheriff and his staff identifying sex traffickers, and buyers, it would be the shelter to support those victims that are identified,” Oberhaus explained. “And then it would be our State Attorney Amira Fox, who would ultimately prosecute those who are found either selling or buying. ”
The trio said the model deemphasizes prosecution of those who are trafficked and makes buying sex a more serious criminal offense. Currently, prostitution and the act of buying the “John” are misdemeanors.
Rambosk said “When you think historically of prostitution, you’re thinking of the person providing the service. That is not what the emphasis of this program is. The emphasis of this program is to look for the trafficker because we’ve found out that such a high percentage of those being trafficked are not there of their own volition.”
According to The Shelter for Abused Women & Children, 90% of prostituted women have a trafficker.
The shelter has seen an increase in numbers.
It expanded its facility and created the Shelly Stayer Center in Immokalee.
Oberhaus says the center in Collier County helps domestic violence and human trafficking victims.
“It’s a 60-bed shelter. It has three separate pods and we have one of those pods that have been designated specifically for victims of human trafficking,” Oberhaus added.
At the center, victims have resources like counseling and the chance to take control of their own life. But the reality is, not everyone has that opportunity. Human trafficking does not discriminate based on age, race or gender.
Sheriff Rambosk and State Attorney Amira Fox say, believe it or not, it’s happening in our backyard.
“Unfortunately, we see statistics that as early as age 15, young people are being drawn into this by a trafficker,” Rambosk said. “For the last three to five years, we have made over 20 traffic or arrests. And we have rescued dozens.”
Fox explained the extent in Southwest Florida. “We have had two or three large-scale human trafficking cases within the circuit, meaning all five counties, we’ve had actually several large cases in Collier County.”
It’ll take a team effort to stop the cycle, and these three leaders are confident the ISP model will make a difference.
Nonetheless, Rambosk is confident they can combat trafficking. “If we can eliminate the purchasers; if we can provide training out to the community, and to our law enforcement officers and with the help of the shelter in the state attorney. We have zero-tolerance for human trafficking in Collier County.”
National Human Trafficking Hotline
SMS: 233733 (Text “HELP” or “INFO”)
Hours: 24 hours, 7 days a week