Friday, January 11, 2013

Tallahassee middle school students taking a stand on human trafficking

Raa students draft human trafficking legislation (with video)
Human trafficking prevention focus of project
12:39 AM, Jan 10, 2013   |   Comments

Raa Middle School teacher Tim Girard
Written by
Arek Sarkissian II
Florida Capital Bureau

State Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, gives Raa Middle School students advice on how to craft a bill about human trafficking that will go before the Legislature in this year's session. / Arek Sarkissian II/Democrat

Raa Middle School student Hannah Wong said she had only heard about human trafficking when the topic was brought up this year in her seventh grade civics class.

Wong said she then learned Florida was the third highest for human trafficking cases in the country, with a case prosecuted in north Tallahassee only five years ago.

“At first I was scared because human trafficking is really local,” Wong said. “My immediate reaction was that I wanted to protect people just like me.”

Wong said her class put their studies in human trafficking to good use in a project to craft a bill for the Legislature. It will be shepherded by state Rep. Alan Williams. He told the class on Wednesday morning their work proves that some of the best ideas for laws come from the community.

“I’ll tell you this: the Legislature is not the best place to get ideas for bills,” said Williams, a Democrat from Tallahassee. “It’s when we hear about issues from the community — from all of you — that they matter the most.”

Williams first contacted Raa Middle School Civics Teacher Tim Girard in August about working with his students to come up with a bill in a program he titled Bridging the Gap: Youth and Politics, similar to what’s been called There Ought to Be a Law in the past.

The Legislature has passed several anti-trafficking bills in recent years, including 2012 when a proposal to place human-trafficking violations within the jurisdiction of the Office of Statewide Prosecution was signed into law.

A Statewide Task Force on Human Trafficking, created in 2009, produced a report on the extent of the problem. Exact numbers are hard to come by, but the Florida State University Center for the Advancement of Human Rights says the state is the third most-popular American destination for human traffickers, mostly in agriculture labor, but also sex trafficking.

Girard said his students started researching human trafficking nine weeks ago and will present their work before a panel of educators and former lawmakers on Monday, during Human Trafficking Awareness Month, as a contender for presentation as a bill in this year’s regular session.

“Really, it’s about researching and putting together their ideas,” Girard said.

Williams learned from the students that companies failing to implement safeguards preventing human trafficking should face government sanctions and increased security measures could help stop the crime. They also learned that those ideas cost money, potentially prohibiting the bill from becoming law.

“Right, but even if something doesn’t pass here, other states may hear about it and then they pass it,” Williams said. “So, it may not have been here, but you’re still helping out.”

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