Human trafficking study sheds light on misconceptions

After six men and a woman were arrested and charged with human trafficking involving two teen boys in St. Petersburg this week, neighbors said they had no idea what was going on next door. Saint Leo University found the public doesn’t know much about trafficking either. 

The university’s polling institute recently released a survey that found people know human trafficking is a problem, but revealed people don’t know much beyond that, and experts worry people are missing the signs.

“There are some myths about it. Most people don't realize how serious a problem it is in the United States,” said Lisa Rapp-McCall, a professor of social work at Saint Leo University.

Rapp-McCall did the nationwide and statewide survey, asking people what they know about human trafficking, and she found out people still believe in common misconceptions about the crime.

“A lot of people think all traffickers are men, and that's not true,” she said.

Rapp-McCall said most people don’t know how to spot the signs.

“We might want to look for strange people together, perhaps an older person with a younger person that doesn't really seem to match up,” she said.

Those are clues Kim Squires wants you to remember. She is a human trafficking survivor. 

"I'm a survivor mentor with More Too Life Inc., Voices For Florida, an open doors outreach network provider. So, it takes people like me to go out and service our mentees," said Squires.

Squires also named behaviors to watch for in victims. 

“If you see somebody that can’t speak up for themselves, that can’t answer questions, they look down, there’s key signs that that person is a victim of some type of abuse,” Squires said.

The organization that Squires works for provides resources, and Rapp-McCall found people often don’t know what’s available to help. They hope that changes.

“If we're aware, we may be able to spot it a little bit more,” said Rapp-McCall.

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and more organizations are working to raise awareness in their communities. Saint Leo University plans to do a follow up survey in a few months to see how their results change.

If you see something suspicious or believe someone may be a victim, you can call the National Human Trafficking hotline at 1-888-373-7888.