Campus & Community

Human trafficking forum teaches how to be part of solution

Palm Beach County ranks third out of all Florida counties for suspected cases of human trafficking. It’s a statistic that Kanathy Haney, professor of health science and education, wants desperately to change.

As chair of PBSC’s Human Trafficking Coalition, Haney moderated an educational forum on the Lake Worth campus Monday, which she and her team organized in conjunction with the Human Trafficking Coalition of the Palm Beaches and the Green Dot Program of Palm Beach County’s Division of Victim Services & Certified Rape Crisis Center. About 130 students, faculty, staff and community members received bystander intervention training, which has been shown to be most effective in reducing this modern form of slavery that involves force and fraud to coerce victims into some type of labor or commercial sex act. Participants learned how to recognize the signs of human trafficking and left with strategies on how to reduce or prevent these acts of violence.

Human Trafficking event presenters
At Monday’s Human Trafficking Awareness Month Forum, from left: Tanya Meade, vice president of the Human Trafficking Coalition of the Palm Beach Beaches; Professor Kanathy Haney, chair of PBSC’s Human Trafficking Coalition; and Clarice C. Redding, Green Dot program coordinator for Palm Beach County’s Division of Victim Services

“In Palm Beach County, due to the agriculture and tourism industries, we are really a perfect mix for human trafficking,” Haney said. “Most trafficking victims in the United States are United States citizens, and most of them are vulnerable populations such as the homeless, children from foster care and runaways, the LGBT population, and those in substance abuse treatment or residing in sober homes. The reality is that traffickers look for vulnerability in an individual, so anyone could be targeted.”

Haney advised participants to keep their social media profiles private and turn off location services for added protection. Traffickers look for individuals who unwittingly share vulnerabilities such as having relationship troubles or needing money or a place to stay. Traffickers will try to fill those voids to gain an individual’s trust, similar to a bait and switch scam. Runaways, for example, are typically approached by a trafficker within 48 hours of leaving home.

Tanya Meade presenting at Human Trafficking event
Tanya Meade

Tanya Meade, vice president of the Human Trafficking Coalition of the Palm Beaches and Clarice C. Redding, Green Dot program coordinator for Palm Beach County’s Division of Victim Services, gave the training presentations. Green Dot is a national training program in bystander intervention to help prevent instances of power-based personal violence, such as domestic violence and sexual assault.

“I think we definitely got the message out,” Meade said. “It’s always so wonderful when you hear ‘wow, I didn’t know that’ or those ‘aha’ moments happening, because those ‘aha’ moments are the beginning of people making a phone call, people making a report, people telling someone else.”

Two students who had those moments were Aly Alberic and Sharmin Shahjahan.

“It was very informative because there are a lot of people who don’t know that these things are happening, and once you become aware, I believe that you can really become a force and really become active and help,” said Alberic, who is an A.A. student majoring in psychology.

Students after human trafficking event
Students gather after the forum, from left: Stefan Douglas, president of PBSC’s Student Government Association; Sharmin Shahjahan; Melina Sena Mendez, SGA historian; and Aly Alberic

Shahjahan, an A.A. student majoring in political science, also gained a greater awareness of the crisis and what she can do. “Being able to see firsthand how to step in without making the situation worse is really important. It’s one step to furthering a solution to human trafficking.”

One of Haney’s goals is to embed human trafficking curriculum into health and nutrition courses as well as relevant career programs at the College. PBSC’s Human Trafficking Coalition plans to work with the Human Trafficking Coalition of the Palm Beaches to present training on a regular basis in all the health science, cosmetology and public safety programs.

“We’re looking to get all of these programs on board by next year,” Haney said. “We want to train students preparing to become nurses, cosmetologists, massage therapists, firefighters—professionals who are in a position to identify human trafficking—so that they become a new frontline workforce to strengthen our community. With such high rates of human trafficking in Palm Beach County, we want to make PBSC a part of the solution.”

January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and to learn more, start by visiting the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign website and watching the Palm Beach County Green Dot Program video with Clarice Redding. Go to the National Human Trafficking Hotline website to get help or report a tip, or contact the local police department.

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