Last week in Tampa two 16-year old girls were prostituted in an America's Best Value Inn & Suites. The hotel owner had called the police about a disturbance, and when police arrived, they found the family of these girls trying to get them back. They had run away from home, and were being prostituted by a 33-year old man.
Last month in Polk county, there was a prostitution bust of 92 prostitutes, pimps, and johns. The Ledger listed all 92 suspects, including a 15-year old girl. Again, she was a runaway who had been pimped out.
These aren't rare cases. This is typical of human trafficking in the United States.
This is just what made the news right here in the last month.
Within the first 48 hours of being on the street, 1 in 3 children are lured into commercial sexual exploitation (National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrown-away Children).
That's just the first 48 hours. If you read about the bust here in our county, you'll notice that many of the girls are around 20-years old. Some have been arrested for prostitution before. The average age that girls and boys enter into being trafficked ranges from 11-14 years old, according to Ernie Allen, the president of National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Many of these "older" girls very well may have been on the streets since they were kids.
There are tangible ways we can help.
Our Love146 task force is taking on the S.O.A.P. project this summer. S.O.A.P. stands for Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution. The project was started by Theresa Flores, who was trafficked herself as a teen. Now she works to prevent this from happening to others.
The S.O.A.P. project targets high risk hotels and provides a monthly supply of soap to each room labeled with the National Human Trafficking Hotline number (1-888-373-7888). We approach hotel owners with photos of missing/runaway teens in our area and ask the staff to be on the look-out for these kids. We also provide training on what risk factors to look for to spot trafficking. Each month volunteers label these bars of soap and deliver them to the hotels. It's that simple.
Right now we only have enough money to cover one or two hotels in our city, but I would love to have every hotel under $50/night covered. It's such a simple, tangible way to seek the welfare of our city.
If you are interested in being a part of this project, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.