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Erika Pineros, Human Trafficking Victims assistant at the Diocese of Venice, explains how victims can escape from being trafficked and receive local assistance, at a recent Homeless 2 Home meeting.

There are many ways to trap a young person into a life of sex trafficking — and to keep them trapped, Erika Pineros says.

Pineros is Catholic Charities program coordinator at the Diocese of Venice. She was the guest speaker at the recent Homeless 2 Home meeting at the Plantation Golf & Country Club in Venice, and spoke on the Diocese’s Anti Human Trafficking Assistance Program.

She shared horror stories of clients who were enslaved and forced into sex acts to “buy” their way out of captivity.

“Yes, it’s true, they have to pay a debt bondage, which is modern-day slavery,” she said, describing the business of sex trafficking. “The trafficker can have about five girls each. In some cases the victims are $25 for a sex act. Then the girls are told they owe the owner/pimp the money back for food and shelter. Many of these girls are held for a while, and then sent out of state to a new batch of clients.”

She said those who are trafficked may not have legal paperwork to be in the country. They have been promised “a job.” By the time they realize it is sexual, they are trapped.

“Survivors tell us that their trafficker threatened to kill their family members,” Pineros said. “The pimp knows where their family lives and says they will have them executed.”

Through the local Anti Human Trafficking Assistance Program run by Catholic Charities, clients receive food, clothing and safe transitional housing and help with dental, medical transportation services, counseling and mental health services and acts as a liaison with law enforcement and immigration services.

The program will soon offer coaching and mentoring for survivors.

‘Creep Guy’ initiative

Of particular concern is what happens in February when the Super Bowl returns to Florida.

Last month, federal and local law enforcement officials launched an initiative to raise awareness and report suspected sex trafficking activity. “Creep Guy” ads will be aired before the Super Bowl as well as a 24-hour phone number people can call or text to report suspicious behavior: 305-FIX-STOP (305-349-7867).

Pineros said there are teams of assistance workers ready to be dispatched to the area of the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens before the Super Bowl on Feb. 2. Authorities say Miami-Dade County ranks first in sex trafficking in Florida and third in the nation. About 40% of victims are children and others are young adults aged 18 to 23.

See something, report it

Pineros said it’s all right for people to report any local suspicious activities if someone suspects a person may be involved in a trafficking situation. It could be a young teen traveling in a van with an older male, or a scantily dressed teen with an older adult. It could be a teen who looks scared or uncomfortable with an older person.

“This happens to men too,” she said. “I’m working with a man who was taken to Texas. He was held in a pen and had to sleep near the animals. He was fed about every three days. He finally made it back home to his family. Now he’s getting the help he needs.”

For more information on the Catholic Charities Anti Human Trafficking Assistance Program, call 239-390-2928 or email epineros@ccslee.org.

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