Human Trafficking Addressed As Global And Local In Awareness Campaign

Feb 4, 2014

This sign, outside a Hong Kong club, reads: "Young, fresh Hong Kong girls; White, clean Malaysian girls; Beijing women; Luxurious ghost girls from Russia." Photos like this one by Kay Chernush will be on display this month in Jacksonville.
Credit Kay Chernush for the U.S. State Departmen

A major effort is launching this week in Jacksonville as part of Human Trafficking Awareness Month using the power of the arts to raise awareness about what’s often called modern-day slavery.

A full slate of events free and open to the public, from photography exhibits to film series, lectures and participatory theater, are scheduled throughout Jacksonville from now through the end of February.

It’s all intended to combat a global problem that’s also a big issue in Florida.

It’s estimated 27 million people are trafficked globally as part of a $32 billion industry; 80 percent are women and children. Florida ranks third in the country in instances of human trafficking.

Lawanda Ravoira, executive Director of the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center, attorney and activist Crystal Freed, and Kay Chernush, founder and director of Washington-based non-profit ArtWorks for Freedom joined Melissa to discuss human trafficking.

The Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center has partnered with Freed and the Florida Coastal School of Law Foundation to sponsor an exhibition of Chernush's photography in "ArtWorks for Freedom JAX," a multi-faceted awareness campaign to raise awareness of slavery and human trafficking.

"It's global, but it's also right here in the U.S., it's here in Jacksonville," said Chernush. "It's real, and it's important that we all band together to work on this issue."

"It's a very dark subject, as we all know, but it's a subject that we must prepare ourselves, our children, our friends, and our family so that we can better protect ourselves, to stop this atrocity from occuring," said Freed.

Freed cited the case of Ian Sean Gordon, sentenced to life in prison in 2011 for child sex trafficking after violently forcing a 15-year-old girl to perform sex acts for money at several places around Jacksonville.

The events include a lecture by internationally recognized investigative journalist Benjamin Skinner, author of A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery, at the University of North Florida.

In the book, Skinner describes how he negotiated with a human trafficker in Haiti to purchase a 9-year-old.

The agreed upon price: $50.

"It's a family issue, it's a children's issue," said Lawanda Ravoira, when asked about the prevalence of human trafficking at large sporting events, like the recently played Super Bowl. "The tourist industry is what makes our state so vulnerable."

Sex trafficking isn't the only way people become victims. Many are coerced into becoming forced laborers.

Events being held as part of ArtWorks for Freedom JAX include:

  • Wednesday, Feb. 5 - First Wednesday Art Walk, Hemming Plaza, 5-9 p.m.
  • Thursday, Feb. 13 - Survivor talk and screening of the film Not My Life, Jacksonville University, J. Henry Gooding Auditorium, 7 p.m.
  • Friday, Feb. 21 - Lecture with Benjamin Skinner, author of A Crime So Monstrous, the University of North Florida, Robinson Theater, 6 p.m.

On Thursday, February 13, WJCT’s First Coast Forum will raise awareness of the issue and explore local efforts to identify and help human trafficking victims in the Jacksonville area with a discussion of the issue. Lawanda Ravoira and Crystal Freed are among the panelists who will be in attendance.

You can follow Melissa Ross on Twitter @MelissainJax Patrick Donges @patrickhdonges.