Clearwater congregation program to spotlight evils of human trafficking, spur action
The urgency of combating human trafficking here in Florida and ways in which people can take action will be the focus of a panel discussion hosted by Congregation Beth Shalom in Clearwater on Sunday, Jan. 31 at 11 a.m.
Following the panel, attendees will participate in “The Red Sand Project,” symbolically showing support for those who “fall through cracks.”
The free community event springs from a recent visit by Rabbi David Weizman of Beth Shalom to Immokalee in southwest Florida to meet with farmworkers as part of a mission by Truah, an organization of rabbis dedicated to human rights.
“The workers have made a lot of progress since Florida was named ‘ground zero’ for modern day slavery issues. But there is still much work to be done to improve the conditions of the workers and in the overall issue of human trafficking in Florida and throughout the country,” Rabbi Weizman said.
The panel will include Rabbi Weizman, Dr. Lakshmi Jayaram, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Tampa, and Giselle Rodriguez, the state outreach coordinator for the Florida Coalition against Human Trafficking.
The visit to Immokalee was inspiring, Rabbi Weizman said. “There is nothing like hearing first-hand from the people who have been struggling with these issues themselves to awaken to their plight and to hear the history of their struggle,” he said.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has fought for higher wages for years and in some notable cases has succeeded in getting a higher payment for tomatoes to directly aid those who harvest that product. It also works to prevent human and sex trafficking and modern day slavery.
Panelist Jayaram’s research interests focus on social inequality, education, and global issues and she is committed to raising the issue of human trafficking on campus. Prior to joining academia, she worked in public policy as a presidential management intern at the U.S. Justice Department, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the White House.
Panelist Rodriguez will speak on “Slavery Still Exists.” She has trained staff members in numerous code enforcement, law enforcement, faith based organizations, health care providers, social service providers, judges and prosecutors. She has also spoken at local high schools and colleges regarding the issue of human trafficking within the state and also assisted in educational efforts in Caribbean nations. Her focus is on domestic minor sex trafficking.
At noon, following the panel discussion, all participants will be given a small bag of red sand to use in support of the Red Sand Project, which was started by New York City-based artist/activist Molly Gochman. The participants will walk outside to pour red sand into the cracks of sidewalks around the synagogue. The red sand serves as a reminder that people cannot merely walk over the most marginalized people in their communities – those who fall through the metaphoric cracks. Once the cracks are filled with red sand, photos will be taken and posted on social media using #RedSandProject.
The act of placing sand in a crack and posting a photo on social media may seem inconsequential, but small actions can help raise awareness of the issues facing those who are overlooked, Red Sand Project officials say.
Rabbi Danielle Upbin of Beth Shalom and wife of Rabbi Weizman helped organize the panel and commented. “Human trafficking is an important issue for us as Americans and particularly as members of the Jewish community and this [Red Sand Project] is a creative way to get the word out and use social media to do so.”
The following information, supplied by Dara Lehon, marketing director for Red Sand Project provides an overview of human trafficking:
• There are between 21 and 36 million victims of human trafficking globally, according to the International Labor Organization
• 68% of them are trapped in forced labor
• 26% of them are children
• 55% are women and girls
• Forced labor and human trafficking is a $150 billion industry worldwide, according to the International Labor Organization
• The U.S. Department of Labor has identified 136 goods from 74 countries made by forced and child labor including our cars, the food that we eat, and electronics we use.
• In 2014, an estimated 1 out of 6 endangered runaways reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children were likely child sex trafficking victims.
• There is no official estimate of the total number of human trafficking victims in the U.S.
• In Florida in 2015, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center reports 310 cases of human trafficking, including 228 sex trafficking cases, 51 labor trafficking cases, 19 unspecified cases and 12 sex and labor cases.
Those who would like to attend the panel discussion should RSVP to cbsoffice@tampabay. rr.com. Refreshments will be available at the event.