Thirty years fighting the human trafficking scourge enabled Dottie Groover-Skipper, statewide coordinator of Anti-Human Trafficking for the Salvation Army of Florida, to speak passionately and knowledgeably to our Zonta Club in July.
From Beaver Cleaver innocence to Passionate Change Agent
Dottie told us how her Beaver Cleaver family world view was blown apart many years ago. She was teaching a self-esteem class to young teenagers. One 13 year old was so disruptive that Dottie almost removed her from the class. But she didn’t, and the adolescent came to the next class with her 4 year old sister. Dottie felt that something wasn’t right. She investigated and learned that the girls lived with their grandmother who was doing the unthinkable–prostituting the children to make money. This introduction to trafficking children for sexual purposes so horrified Dottie that she made the eradication of human trafficking of children and adults her life’s work.
This sickening example happens more often than any of us would like to believe.
Dottie, backed up by the first annual report of the Florida Council on Human Trafficking 2014-2015, explained that Florida ranks third behind New York and Texas for the number of human trafficking complaints called into the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Florida also has the third largest state population in the country. And we employ thousands of people in agriculture, hospitality services, adult entertainment, and construction industries. These work settings make it easier for unscrupulous employers to exploit economically vulnerable, sometimes immigrant, workers.
The Florida Statutes define human trafficking as:
“…transporting, soliciting, recruiting, harboring, providing, enticing, maintaining, or obtaining another person for the purpose of exploitation of that person.”
The Legislature also recognized in law that:
“while many victims of human trafficking are forced to work in prostitution or the sexual entertainment industry, trafficking also occurs in forms of labor exploitation, such as domestic servitude, restaurant work, janitorial work, sweatshop factory work, and migrant agricultural work.”
Dottie is Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s appointee to the 15 member Florida Council on Human Trafficking that is staffed by the AG’s office. The Council includes secretaries of five Florida departments, Education Commissioner, two members of the legislature, an elected state attorney, an elected sheriff, two members appointed by the Governor, two members appointed by the Attorney General as well as the AG who chairs the group. The Council is required to meet once a quarter and alternates meetings in Tallahassee, Jacksonville, and Tampa, with other locations.
The Council’s report explains its focus:
The Council’s first priority is to end human trafficking of minors for commercial sexual exploitation. The Council also seeks to expand the current Florida definition of human trafficking to include a range of economic exploitation of people widespread in our state.
Its four thematic areas are to
- build awareness of the scope and depth of the problem
- improve law enforcement tools and trainingi
- ncrease and target prosecution to include “labor trafficking,” and
- strengthen victim safety and recovery assistance.
Dottie pointed out that more resources, such as safe housing, are needed for human trafficking victims. She explained that victims suffer from psychological and physical problems. Women and girls often have dental, kidney infections, and STDs. They also need legal help to get prostitution charges removed from their records. Why? Because felony records often foreclose their finding new employment in legitimate work.
Not content to work for the Salvation Army only, Dottie also started a ministry with her HeartDance Foundation. The HeartDance brochure says they assist “men, women, and children enslaved in addiction, sex trade, and labor exploitation.” They reach out to dancers working in Tampa’s many strip clubs to build fellowship, trust, and a path for the workers who may also be selling themselves for sex to escape the adult entertainment work-setting.
We were grateful to have Dottie join us for dinner and share valuable and timely information with us. Thanks Dottie!
We will identify opportunities pending in the Florida Legislature to reduce human trafficking and domestic violence and help survivors of each recover. We will use this information to educate voters as to how their elected representatives and challengers running for election could address these issues.