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Symposium reveals reality of human trafficking in Alachua County

by Leslie Cowan
Law Student Writer/ 3L

NagleIn 2010, slavery is still alive and well. According to statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of State and distributed by the sponsors of the Levin College of Law Human Trafficking Symposium, 27 million people worldwide are slaves, dehumanized and traded as commodities.

On Jan. 28, the Levin College of Law hosted a Human Trafficking Symposium, which included a presentation by Dr. Luz E. Nagle and a panel discussion featuring local Alachua County experts explaining the scope of human trafficking in Alachua County. The symposium served as the capstone presentation to a week-long initiative sponsored by LexisNexis, CARIB-LAW, the Immigration Law Association, and the Association for Public Interest Law to foster awareness and discussion among the law school community.

Nagle, professor of law at Stetson Law School and a former judge in Colombia, presented a lecture titled, "Impact of Globalization on Human Trafficking: An Era of Globalized Servitude," in which she provided a comprehensive overview of the international problem of human trafficking, and how disintegrating borders and intermingling economies have made human trafficking more common.

Nagle defined human trafficking as a crime against a person being transported into a foreign country or to another location within his or her home country. The person being moved either does not consent to being moved, or his or her consent has been obtained through coercion or deception. Nagle also explained that the victim is not free to leave and may be told that he or she owes a debt to the captor, which may be paid off only through labor or sexual servitude.

"This is a crime that crosses nations’ borders. What we see today is that organized crime has benefited from what we call 'globalization,'" Nagle explained, urging that "international cooperation becomes crucial."

What may have come as surprising to many audience members is that the United States is one of the top destination countries for human trafficking, Nagle stated.

Perhaps even more shocking is that human trafficking abounds even in Alachua County.

Following Nagle’s presentation, Levin College of Law Professor Kenneth Nunn served as moderator for a panel discussion composed of Gregory McMahon, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida, Dr. Sherry Kitchens, President / CEO of the Alachua County Human Trafficking Task Force, and Detective Tyson Elliot, of the Alachua County Special Victims Unit for Human Trafficking Division. The panelists discussed the prevalence of human trafficking in Alachua County.

McMahon discussed the issue of diminished credibility when a child victim of human trafficking testifies against an adult male who denies any involvement in a crime. He also discussed the difficulties concerning human trafficking which are unique to undocumented immigrants. These difficulties include language barriers as well as the constant threat of deportation that their captors may wield over them as leverage to prevent them from contacting law enforcement. McMahon emphasized strong prosecution as key to stopping human trafficking.

Elliot emphasized the importance of proactive law enforcement in ensuring that proper legal consequences are enforced. In a hypothetical case of an adult male paying for sex with a fifteen-year-old prostitute, Elliot said that some counties would respond by charging both the man and the girl with misdemeanor prostitution, rather than addressing the possibility of human trafficking and seeking help for the girl.

Kitchens shared a story of a thirteen-year-old victim of child sex trafficking that she treated in her capacity as a counselor. Although she once escaped sexual servitude, the girl was later found again by her former pimp and forced back into the world of human trafficking. Kitchens used the story to show how easily victims are drawn back into sex trafficking, and how tenacious their captors can be.

During the question and answer session, one audience member asked a poignant question: "what can I do to help?"

In response, Elliot advised consulting the Health and Human Services Web site or the Alachua County Sheriff Department’s Web site if one has information regarding a suspected human trafficking situation which does not require immediate attention, but instead necessitates further investigation. Kitchens advocated community awareness of human trafficking, such that community members will be more vigilant in noticing the signs that someone may be a victim.

Professor Nunn concluded the panel discussion by echoing Kitchens’ sentiments and expressing hope that if a community is informed about human trafficking and offers services to victims, perhaps victims who are able to come forward will be encouraged to do so and break free of the entrapment of slavery.