I-Team: Miami Activists Tackle Human Trafficking

Feb 4, 2010 11:08 pm US/Eastern 

Miami activists are going around telling people there are options to avoid falling prey to human trafficking.

A unique team of human rights activists told CBS4’s I-Team the big Super Bowl game makes South Florida the perfect target for human trafficking and the illegal sex trade.

“They said to you, you have no choice but to sell your body?” Michele Gillen asked a young Nigerian woman whose identity CBS4 is concealing to protect her life.  “Yes!” she said. In her first television interview, in fear her traffickers will find her and kill her for escaping their world, she said, “I’m afraid.”

Elizabeth, a former sex slave, shared the horror of a life few can imagine. She says the saddest part was, “The fact that you see yourself as a prostitute.” She says sometimes she’d be expected to sexually service 10 to 20 men a night.

She was trafficked from Nigeria into Italy, where she was then forced to pay off her alleged travel debt of $40,000.

Elizabeth is speaking out because she believes her message and story of rescue is universal. She says the miracle that saved her was the “Sister Squad”—a pioneering group of nuns who walk the world’s dark streets to identify girls who were trafficked and offer help to those who were trapped and wanted out.

“We cannot rest until all these women are protected and have the right to be recognized,” said Sister Eugenia Bonetti, a missonary who has devoted much of her life to bringing voice to these young women.

The US State Department has named Sister Bonetti one of the world’s anti-trafficking heroes. She has rescued hundreds of enslaved girls, offering them refuge in a network of unique protective shelters.

“Their youth is going to be stolen, their life, their dignity, everything. They become merchandise,” said Bonnetti. “What is common for them is the terrible sense of fear and guilt. It takes months and years to rebuild a person,” she went on to say meeting with Gillen in St. Peter’s Square in Rome.

” We are seeing minor children being sold for sex and that’s where we need to be another Sister Bonnetti,” said Anna Rodriguez, Founder and CEO of the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking . “There are girls out there who need help but can’t escape on their own.”

Rodriguez is leading a team of volunteers who have gathered from across the nation and will fan out across our community to help identify girls at risk during the Super Bowl weekend.

“Right here in Miami the merchandise is available and people are buying it. Large Events like the Superbowl attract those who traffic in sex and slavery. The problem is real in Florida, and at the Tampa Superbowl last year we uncovered and saw that sex sites on the internet quadrupled,” Rodriquez underscored to Gillen.

The I- Team identified internet ads asking for girls to serve dinner to alleged Saudi royal family members in town for the Super Bowl–a sampling of an avalanche of advertisements experts say can be indicators of sex exploitation.

Rodriguez is a former law enforcement victim advocate who played a pivotal role in a pioneering Florida case that broke open the horror of human trafficking on US soil. She met with Chief I-Team Investigator Michele Gillen at a local South Florida church where teams of counselors, activitists and volunteers slept just a few hours a night, hitting the streets to offer a lifeline to enslaved and exploited young girls. Many wore t-shirts emblazened with the slogan “Tackle the trafficker.”

No one knows who Rodriguez and her team will meet up with on the streets this visit and might potentially help. But one thing is for sure. If not but for a “stranger” that Elizabeth met one night …in the middle of the night… she believes her life which includes raising a little girl , would have been over. The kindness of that stranger, a Sister, gave her a second chance.

“It is a miracle that I am alive” Elizabeth told Gillen who asked what her heart is filled with today.

“It is filled with joy, peace, happiness and hope.”

For more information on Human trafficking visit: http://www.stophumantrafficking.org/ 

To view Video on this event, click HERE

The CBS4 I-Team’s Most Popular Investigations


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