One of the region’s leading agencies in the fight against human trafficking in Florida is battling on another front as well — to raise enough money to continue its efforts.
Anna Rodriguez, founder of the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking, said people are reluctant to publicly support her efforts because of fear that it might be construed as favoring amnesty for immigrants. This comes at a particularly bad time for the group, she says, because it is seeking sponsorship for a fundraising gala, at which the film “Lives for Sale” will premiere.
The documentary on human trafficking was partially filmed in Southwest Florida and includes the case of a Guatemalan girl who was freed from slavery in North Fort Myers. The News-Press first reported the girl’s ordeal in May 2005. The movie will air nationally this fall on the Hallmark Cable Channel and PBS.
Yet Rodriguez says that even though her group sent out more than 100 pleas for $1,000 sponsorship, so far, no one has offered.
“None, zero, nada. Plus, we sent out 500 invitations and only 90 tickets are spoken for — and 20 of those are courtesy,” she said. “What really bothers me is that we are doing outreach and we have had positive results. We’ve identified and rescued eight victims of trafficking throughout the state.”
Rodriguez is particularly bothered at the lack of support from the area’s Hispanic community and from the Southwest Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
“The majority of the victims that we have been able to rescue are Hispanics. As the Hispanic Chamber they should have been supporting my work,” Rodriguez said. “This is not about supporting immigration reform — this isn’t even an immigration issue — this is about saving lives.”
Chamber Board President Veronica Culbertson said many more groups approach the chamber for support than they can help. “Right now we are working on a couple of projects that are taking all of our time and energy,” she said. “We wish we could just help everybody who came to us.”
But some groups still are committed to helping eradicate the crime with a reported 2 million victims in the U.S. annually. The Sanibel-Captiva chapter of Zonta International, the club that brought the focus on human trafficking to Lee County, is giving Rodriguez’s group $10,000 to continue its efforts, said Nola Theiss, president of the group.
Theiss, who also operates a similar cause to Rodriguez’s called the Human Trafficking Awareness Partnership, said politics should not enter into the fight against this heinous crime. “This is not an immigration issue. It occurs to Americans as well as immigrants who are legal and illegal,” Theiss said. “(If) they are subject to atrocities, then it becomes a human rights issue.”
Doug Molloy, chief assistant U.S. Attorney in Fort Myers and an expert in human trafficking, added that the support for anti-human trafficking campaigns in Southwest Florida has been “outstanding.” “One reason why we have seen more arrests here in Lee County than in some states is because the community is aware of the problem,” he said.
Amy Bennett Williams and Jeff Cull. "Immigration flap muddles human trafficking struggle." 1 September 2006. News-Press.
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