Human Trafficking is a global problem. Even in the United states, slavery persists unbeknowsnt to many. While the emancipation act of 1863 may have made slavery illegal, like anything illegal, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still happen.
We spoke with Anna Rodriguez, the founder of Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking. Anna is one of the most impacting people in the fight against human trafficking today. She is the author of “Ma’am Anna”, and she is a recognized hero by president Bush.
How long have you been working to fight human trafficking, when did you first become aware of the issue?
I have been working human trafficking cases since 1999. I was working with Collier County Sheriffs’ Office when I uncovered my first HT case while conducting a follow up regarding a domestic violence case. The case was prosecuted using the old slavery laws of the US and became a landmark case as it was one of the cases presented to Congress for the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000. This case was also instrumental in the creation of the “T” visa for international victims of human trafficking. The “T” visa was signed by former Attorney General John Ashcroft January 22, 2002. In 2004 I retired from CCSO and founded the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking as a result of lack of programs and services to assist victims after rescued. I used my own savings to start the coalition.
Would you say there is a lot of myth around human trafficking? What don’t most people know about it?
Oh.. yes! People are very confused between human trafficking and human smuggling. They don’t understand that they are very different crimes. Human Trafficking is a crime of exploitation and against the person’s human rights. Human smuggling is a crime of opportunity and an immigration crime against the country. There are also people that believe human trafficking only happens in third world countries and that is incorrect. Human Trafficking is happening all over the world. Human trafficking is not a gender crime. People say it only affects women and children. That is incorrect because we are seeing an increase that males can also be victims.
“All traffickers are males.”
That is also a myth because we are seeing more and more females as pimps and even as the master mind of the operation.
“Human trafficking is only about sex trafficking.”
We need to understand that human trafficking is about labor trafficking and domestic servitude as well.
Tell us a little bit about the work you do?
For the last 15 years I have been training law enforcement, service providers, faith based agencies, community groups, government officials all over the US and in 30 countries free of charge except for travel and accommodations. When home we do day and evening street outreach, help start new groups, task forces or coalitions around Florida and the US. We assist with victims services, help other agencies establish policies and protocols for case management and shelter programs, conduct victim assessments for law enforcement and provide trainings and mentoring interns from higher education throughout the US. We have also had the honor of hosting interns from France, Latvia, Sweden, Colombia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Cebu, Guyana, Nepal, Uzbekistan,Haiti and Argentina. We also prepare “care bags”for law enforcement to have when they are conducting rescues so they can give to the victims. We have a youth program that we have incorporated and have been able to speak at high schools as a prevention campaign against human trafficking and alert them to the dangers when using social media. All of what we do is free and takes so much time that we don’t have time to fund raise for our agency.We also spend time mentoring others that want to join the fight against human trafficking.
Where is human trafficking most prevalent in the wold, and why?
We are starting to see more and more cases in the US with people from Eastern Europe, Asia and Central America. In the US we are seeing victims from India, Philippines, Eastern Europe, Indonesia, Guatemala, Mexico, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Thailand, Jamaica, Costa RIca, Puerto Rico, China,Koreans and of course US citizens.
Each year supposedly, the Superbowl is a big destination for human trafficking, please explain what this is all about?
There is a slight increase in commercial sexual exploitation as well as labor trafficking during Superbowl. To say that it is the biggest event for sex trafficking is incorrect. We have heard statements of up to 10,000 prostitutes during Superbowl and that is not accurate. Out of all the Superbowl’s that we have conducted the “Tackle the Trafficker”street outreach we can tell you that Miami was unique. We could say that there were not more than a couple of hundred sex workers in Miami but not all of them were victims and the majority of t hem were adults over 25 and no pimps. We saw more drugs being sold in the open and drunk people all over the place. The websites posting in pages like Craigslist and Back page were showing a slight increase but you had to be careful not to count the same ad as they kept re posting ads anywhere between 4-7 times a day. So to go by the final number per day would have been misleading as ads where duplicated numerous time. Any major event does have “counterfeit merchandise”and the majority of that merchandise has labor trafficking behind it. But all you hear about is sex trafficking.
What was it like being deemed a hero by President Bush?
It was an honored to meet the President and to be referred to as a hero. I was just following my “sixth sense” and doing what I felt it was the right thing to do. Human Trafficking is a mission that I am very passionate about. I believe deep in my heart that no one has the right to abuse and exploit another human being. I don’t get paid nor anyone at FCAHT gets paid as we are all doing this work as volunteers. But my pay, my reward comes every time we are able to rescue one more person from slavery. You have no idea the joy I feel when we can change someones future. It is the most rewarding feeling you can ever feel. I know many people are doing work in Human Trafficking because is their job and they get paid for it. But my question is…. Would you continue to do the work if you were told there was no more salary? We don’t have Hollywood stars speaking for us, nor big corporations funding our work. What we have is a great heart, lot’s of passion and compassion to do what is right. We survive with donations to help us continue our work and we are very proud in what we have accomplished throughout 15 years of sacrifice and passion.
Human Trafficking has become the talk of the town but for some a way to satisfy a private agenda of power and control. I believe that true heroes are the ones that follow their heart with no expectations. I believe that the only way we are able to make a difference is by uniting and working together to make a difference. But it is sad that throughout the years we have a movement that is going backwards and personal agendas interfering with the work of the real abolitionist.
What do you urge people to do to fight trafficking?
Join grassroots organizations that are truly making a difference in the fight against human trafficking. Look for organizations that spend more money in programs to assist victims and not to pay high salaries to CEO’s and high Directors. Look for organizations that have an open book. Be careful with groups that are embellishing numbers and sensationalizing the issue to bring more funding for higher salaries and not better programs to assist victims. Become educated and spread the word. -Your hopes for this global problem are obvious, do you think there can be a resolution in our lifetime? What would need to be done to really end humans enslaving other humans? I hope I can witness the eradication of human trafficking but in reality I know that after my passing human trafficking will still be active. New advocates and abolitionist will join the fight and somewhere in history others will learn of my work.. It has been 15 years since I started working and advocating for victims of human trafficking and the numbers continue to grow as traffickers are using new trends to exploit people. I couldn’t have done it without the support and love of my family. Abraham Lincoln abolish slavery but here we are in the 21st century and slavery is still here….
You do very serious work. What do you do for fun?
Love Broadway shows so I spend a lot of time watching Phantom of the Opera, Evita, Mama Mia and listening to Barry Manilow, Journey and Ricky Martin.I love fishing with my kids and when I have time going to the parks to ride the roller coasters with my kids.
For more information, do check Anna’s book: Ma’am Anna: The Remarkable Story of a Human Trafficking Rescuer.