If you think slavery and human trafficking don't exist, think again. According to the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking (FCAHT), the crime involves the commercial exchange and exploitation of humans including forced prostitution and pornography, involuntary labor, servitude and debt bondage.
Florida has been identified as a hub for human trafficking activity, citing one of the highest incidences of human trafficking in the country.
Locally in Lehigh Acres, Lisa Goehle and others are on a quest to get the word out about human trafficking and how it affects people's lives and how it can be going on right under your nose.
Goehle is a member of St. Raphael's Church and she conducts a monthly human trafficking awareness meeting that is open to the public.
"What we have planned is a three-hour training on what human trafficking is, what you can do and how to recognize victims," Goehle said.
The training will be done by qualified members of the Florida Coalition against Human Trafficking in Tampa. The session begins at 9 a.m. and ends at noon.
"We are inviting the public, everyone ... The purpose is to help spread the word that human trafficking is very much a concern in our area as well as in all of Florida. We know from speaking to rescued victims that they are allowed to attend church and we also know that most houses used to hold victims are rentals in the area. People who are in the real estate, members of churches and those in the medical fields should really attend," Goehle said.
Those who are interested and Goehle is hoping it is a large group, may call and register by calling her at 239-633-0739 or Laura Pardo at St. Ralphael's Church at 239-369-6424.
Currently, FCAHT says there are some 27 million people enslaved throughout the world with 2.5 million located right here in the United States. Members of FCAHT said each year, 600,000 to 8900,000 more people are being trafficked worldwide.
Goehle noted that every American child has learned in his or her history classes that human slavery was supposed to have ended with the Emancipation Proclamation of Sept. 22, 1862 declared by President Abraham Lincoln.
FCAHT reports that the 13th Amendment, which was enacted on Dec. 18, 1865 officially made all slavery illegal in the U.S. They say that these statistics show that slavery is still alive and flourishing throughout the entire word.
FCAHT, an international domestic anti-trafficking agency is a 501(c)(3) organization that has been helping victims of human trafficking since its creation in 2004.
Goehle said FCAHT works closely with community service providers to aid victims with emergency food and shelter, medical and psychological treatment and other services as needed to help those individuals restore their lives and their freedoms.
The organization works very closely with the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the local sheriff's offices and local law enforcement agencies in investigations and prosecutions of traffickers as well as providing advocacy for the victims of human trafficking.
"We all have heard of human trafficking in our own area of Southwest Florida. We have read about the discoveries of human traffickers from reports from Florida state law enforcement officials and from the Lee County Sheriff's Office. Our mission at St. Raphael's Church is to get everyone involved.
"Human trafficking victims may be subjected to enslavement right here in Lehigh Acres. We want to make people aware and to be able to report things that seem wrong in regards to such human enslavement," Goehle said.