Groups work to bring awareness of modern day slavery

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BRADENTON - Slavery in America was supposed to end in the 1800's with the 13th Amendment…but it didn't. According to the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking, there are 2.5 million people enslaved in the U.S., and Florida is identified as a hub for human trafficking.

Most victims are forced into prostitution or involuntary labor. Monday, as part of National Human Rights Day, the Manatee High Peace Jam and Z Clubs brought the Florida Modern Day Slavery Museum to the school in an effort to raise awareness to these issues.

Manatee High students we spoke with say many of us could unintentionally be perpetuating the problem, and they say modern day slavery and human trafficking aren't things that happen somewhere else, but things that happen right here on the Suncoast.

“We probably could have 10 children just out of this school alone that are being sold, and we don't even know it.” As human trafficking victim Connie Rose knows, human trafficking and modern day slavery happens, and it happens here. “I'm 56 years old, and I'm very proud to share how old I am and my story. It happened here in Tampa, over 40 years ago.”

As part of Human Rights Day, Rose shared her story with students about how she is a survivor of domestic minor sex trafficking – something Z Club members know happens all too often. “Human trafficking is when people get brought into slavery or prostitution by kidnapping or their brought into it, and we bring awareness to help stop it,” says club president Desiree McDonald.

Students also brought the Florida Modern Day Slavery Museum to the school. “They show you chains that they've used to chain people up to the trucks, and the truck is exactly like one of the ones they would have been staying in, and it shows you a shirt with blood stains on it from a guy who was beaten, and there's a lot of cool stuff and stories about people trying to escape and stand up for what it is,” says Peace Jam vice president Stephanie Gannett.

And while the topics of human trafficking and slavery aren't easy to discuss, Manatee County Sheriff's officials say awareness is necessary. “It's important for the community as a whole to understand that this can exist in your community, and it can happen in the workforce. For example, if you go get your nails done, are these individuals free to do this job, or are they being forced into labor? And in the food industry, so there are so many opportunities for people in the communities to recognize there is something unusual going on…it doesn't look right to them, and they can get law enforcement involved, or the correct agencies involved so that an investigation can occur,” says Major Connie Shingledecker.

Authorities say if you notice any sort of sign or something suspicious and you suspect there could be a human trafficking issue or human slavery, you should contact law enforcement immediately.

Major Shingledecker says all of the officers with the Manatee County Sheriff's Office are trained to recognize possible human trafficking situations, and all tips are taken seriously.