Friday, August 24, 2012
Girl Scout Fights Human Trafficking
Jupiter teen earns Girl Scouts’ highest honor by fighting human trafficking
By Randall P. Lieberman, Special to The Palm Beach Post
Julia Joy McBee knows first-hand the thrills of swimming, the virtues of Scouting and the beauty of singing. Her passion, however, lies in crushing the ugliest thing she’s ever known.
The Jupiter resident and Dreyfoos School of the Arts senior has made the fight against human trafficking her cause. It became the topic of her Girl Scout Gold Award project, the highest achievement in Girl Scouting, which she earned in May.
She also helped the effort to pass a bill through the Florida Legislature imposing tougher penalties on those convicted of human trafficking —and was present when Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill into law June 12.
McBee learned of the issue through a family friend, Aimee Cernicharo Cabral, a human-rights attorney for St. Thomas University in Miami. Cabral told McBee how immigrants were being smuggled in and out of the country, deceived and forced to work as prostitutes, some in chains.
“I was shocked,” McBee said. “As I discussed this with my friends at school, it became clear they didn’t know what was going on right in our backyard less than a mile from our school.”
McBee felt compelled to help the victims. Cabral was McBee’s executive adviser for her Gold Award, Girl Scouting’s version of Eagle Scout. That project required “countless hours researching, networking, presenting and advocating to create awareness of the harsh reality of human trafficking,” some of it to state lawmakers as she worked with Rep. William Snyder, R-Stuart, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, build support for the bill among state lawmakers.
McBee also became involved with and serves on the Frederick Douglass Family Foundation, a international organization dealing with the issue of human trafficking, and serves on its student board of advisers.
McBee plans to continue to advocate for the victims of human trafficking as she looks ahead to college.
“There is much work to be done to create awareness of modern-day slavery,” she said. “My Girl Scout Gold Award project has changed my life. I want to continue to help the innocent victims of human trafficking. I plan to apply to colleges to focus on social services and international relations, and perhaps become a human-rights attorney.”
To get involved or for further information, e-mail McBee at email@example.com.
What have you learned about human trafficking that is most important to convey to others?
“Florida is a haven for human traffickers due to our international ports, Hispanic populations and large homeless and runaway populations. Many victims do not speak English and are unable to communicate with service providers, police or others who might be able to help them. They also are often too scared to ask for help.”
What can people do about human trafficking in our area?
“I want our community to know that human trafficking is happening right here in Palm Beach County. It happens in plush gated communities, restaurants, agriculture, nail salons, strip bars, massage parlors and other nearby places. We need to be vigilant, question what we see and call the Trafficking Information and Referral Hotline — (888) 373-7888 — and police.”
Who helped you with your Girl Scout Gold Award Project?
“In addition to Ms. Aimee, Mrs. LeeAnn Meltzer, my Girl Scout Troop 20488 leader, who’s been there for me since elementary school and Ms. Paula Fontaine, my Gold Award adviser.”
What are some of the extra-curricular activities you are involved with?
“I have been a Girl Scout since I was five. I am a theater major at Dreyfoos, having performed in, worked stage crew for and managed stage performances. I also swim varsity, am a member of Young Singers of the Palm Beaches, teach religious education at St. Peter Catholic Church in Jupiter and recently graduated from the Youth Leadership Palm Beach County Class of 2012.”
Who are your heroes?
“All my heroes share my dream which is to eradicate modern-day slavery. They help the scared and intimidated victims of human trafficking; it’s the FBI, police, FPI, social workers, attorneys, volunteers at human trafficking coalitions and safe houses, the Frederick Douglas Foundation, and legislators and the governor, who passed and signed HB 7049.”