Outtakes: More Awareness Needed
Inweekly has written about human trafficking in our community for over a dozen years. The plight of men, women and children being bought and sold touched at the very of heart of our mission to give a voice to the voiceless.
In 2007, an Outtakes column caught the attention of Brad Dennis of the KlaasKids Foundation, who brought Shauna Newell to our office. The articulate, intelligent teenager told the staff about being drugged at a friend’s house and waking up tied to a bed, where she was repeatedly raped. The “friend” was an adult, and the man posing as the girl’s father was part of a sex slave operation. Thanks to news reports generated by Dennis and Newell’s parents, the kidnappers released her after four days, dumping her at a convenience store.
Dennis gave us our first introduction into the growing problem of human trafficking along the Interstate 10 corridor. He shared how pimps recruited young girls from bus stops, malls and social media and would take them on a circuit of Atlanta to Jacksonville to Miami to Tampa to Orlando to Tallahassee to Panama City Beach to Pensacola to Mobile to New Orleans and back to Atlanta.
“That’s a pretty well-known circuit for all of this,” Dennis told Inweekly in June 2007. “They can get more money from these kids than working them somewhere else.”
Today, pimps have a new circuit and different scam. In July 2017, the FBI received two anonymous tips through the National Human Trafficking Hotline that indicated two local massage parlors were possibly using underaged females and offering sexual acts for additional money during the massage sessions.
Last August, U.S. Attorney Lawrence Keefe announced the raids on several massage parlors owned by Pensacola resident David C. Williams. In November, Williams pled guilty to using interstate facilities for purposes of racketeering, transporting women for prostitution, harboring illegal aliens for commercial advantage or private financial gain and being involved in a money-laundering conspiracy. During his plea, Williams admitted to the court that he operated Asian massage parlors with Chinese women who offered sexual acts in return for money and who were illegally in the U.S.
This Friday, the Circuit 1 Human Trafficking Task Force is hosting a summit to raise awareness of the problem. Our reporter Savannah Evanoff interviewed several of the organizers for this issue.
Law enforcement has more tools to deal with human trafficking than it did a dozen years ago. We can be one of those tools if we learn how traffickers are operating in our communities. We can help authorities prosecute the criminals and save the victims.
The summit is an important step in curbing human trafficking along the Florida Panhandle.