TAMPA, Fla. - From domestic violence to human trafficking, the pandemic has brought in more calls to domestic violence centers and more reports of trafficking, according to victim advocates.
Anti-trafficking organization One More Child said children became more at risk when the pandemic began because teachers could not report signs of child abuse or pick up on evidence of human trafficking as children spent more time at home.
“Our teachers get training for abuse, for exploitation, our parents don’t. So, so many don’t even know the signs. It doesn’t take a parent or caregiver to be in poverty or have a history of abuse for your child to be at risk for trafficking,” said Christa Lynn Hicks, the executive director of anti-trafficking at One More Child based in Polk County, a division of the Florida Baptist Children’s Homes.
Instead of educators and school resource officers spotting risk indicators in school, healthcare workers became the eyes and ears that anti-trafficking organizations depended on. Hicks said reports for human trafficking of Tampa Bay and South Florida children went up in the last seven months.
“We definitely saw that the increase in being online and the increase in being at home alone was a factor in not just re-trafficking but in the potential for a youth who you wouldn’t think fits to be trafficked,” Hicks said.
One More Child said the nonprofit is handling 90 active trafficking cases, and the pandemic caused interruptions in food service, after-school care programs and other resources that often help at-risk children. Anti-trafficking advocates said training is essential to spot the risk factors as exploiters target children spending more time online.
“It will be a while before anyone has any statistics or numbers on any of that, but direct service workers along with law enforcement seeing an increase in referrals and reports right at the same time shows us what we all suspect,” said Hicks of the increase in trafficking numbers.
The pandemic also amplifies concerns over domestic violence. Community Action Stops Abuse (CASA) in Pinellas County said their calls went up 20 percent last month, from some 300 at the same time last year to 500-plus in September.
“We have survivors calling in trying to safety plan and those who care about survivors and who are noticing that something is not quite right,” said Lariana Forsythe, the chief executive officer at CASA.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and Forsythe said the abuse goes under the radar, often not openly discussed. So, CASA is offering free bystander training at 9 a.m. Thursday so others know what to look for.
“It can be very dangerous for a bystander. Most mass violence in our country is a result somehow of a domestic violence situation, and so we need to be careful and protect our bystanders if they’re wanting to help,” said Forsythe. “People don’t realize that domestic violence really is a public health crisis. It happens more often than aggravated assault, vehicle theft, robbery, rape and murder combined.”
If you or someone you know is in need of help due to domestic violence, call the 24-hour Domestic Violence hotline for Florida at (800) 500-1119 or CASA for Pinellas County residents at (727) 895-4912. CASA offers shelter and services for survivors such as injunctions, justice advocates for the court system and education tools in Pinellas County. You can find more information at https://www.casa-stpete.org/
If you or someone you know needs help due to human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking hotline at 1 (888) 373-7888 or visit https://humantraffickinghotline.org/. You can also learn more about human trafficking and ways you can help victims and spot signs by visiting One More Child’s website at https://onemorechild.org/our-care/anti-trafficking/.