Combating Human Trafficking

By Maya Bell

Combating Human Trafficking

By Maya Bell
A forum held at UM looked to cast an ever-brighter spotlight on the local illicit trade in people trapped in lives of forced labor or commercial sex.

Accused of being a snitch by a pair of bullies, the 14-year-old girl had to prove she wasn’t by turning tricks. Another teenager refused to testify against the pimp who brainwashed her into having sex with multiple men multiple times a day—but her text messages chronicled her life of bondage. 

Joining forces with 

University of Miami

 President Donna E. Shalala, Miami-Dade County State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle brought her 4th Annual Human Trafficking Forum, which focused on “Combating the ‘Glamour’ and Demand Through Media, Education and Services,” to the UM campus on Tuesday to cast an ever-brighter spotlight on the local illicit trade in people trapped in lives of forced labor or commercial sex. 

Too often, Rundle said, South Florida’s victims of the estimated annual $32 billion industry that, at any moment, enslaves 2.7 million people around the world, are vulnerable girls who, conscripted from our schools, streets, playgrounds, and foster homes, are not even old enough to drive. 

“They are walking our local streets every night to earn money for the pimps who are their masters. They are brought into this life of servitude as young as 12 or 13 years old,’’ Rundle said, noting that the “trauma bond” they form with their predators is impenetrable. “They see these predators, these pimps, as the only thing they know. It’s their routine; it’s their anchor, it’s the structure of their lives, as horrible as it may be.”

Welcoming prosecutors, police, school officials, service providers and other advocates and community leaders to the Newman Alumni Center, Shalala pledged the University’s continued support in exposing and fighting this modern-day form of slavery—by dragging it out from the shadows where it thrives and combating the relentless stream of social and other media messages glorifying prostitution, drug use, gangs, and abuse that bombard young people every day. As forum speakers repeatedly noted, the average American child today spends 2,000 hours with his or her parents, 11,000 hours in school, and more than 50,000 hours consuming media over their school years.

“We don’t have to be a perpetrator to take some of the blame. We’re guilty as a society of too often glamorizing human exploitation,” Shalala said. “That means we have to redouble our efforts and it will only happen if we all link arms and join together.”

Film and video director Gil Green, who has produced more than 150 music videos for a roster of multi-platinum stars across many musical genres, brought a unique perspective to the forum. As “a white boy who played basketball” with black friends at the Henry S. West Laboratory School on the UM campus, he fell in love with the hip hop culture of the ’80s, which he noted played a large role in conveying what’s cool to young people, often with positive social messages. 

Today, though, Green is dismayed by the relentless torrent of negative messages young people receive about what’s cool from their musical heroes. It’s little wonder, he said, that they could think it’s cool to prostitute themselves, or okay for someone else to do it.

“The social message of music has gotten lost. It’s more about who could be more hard-core, who could be more of a gangster or a drug-dealer, or who could be more sexually explicit,” Green said. “Images are impressionable. They impressed me in a positive way. Where they are going now I think they are impressing people in a negative way. And many of these young people are not getting those 2,000 hours with their parents.” 

As a case in point, Green played a snippet from O.T. Genasis’s hit song, “CoCo,” which depicts the rap artist cutting up cocaine to a very catchy tune. Then he played “Bitch Bad,” the music video he said he’s most proud of making. In it, rapper Lupe Fiasco decries the rampant use of the word “bitch” and the effect it has on women and children.

Hoping to make videos like the latter more profitable, Green said his 305 Films company plans to launch a summer camp in Miami where kids will be enlisted to make positive-message music videos for some of the big stars he knows—and plant seeds he hopes will germinate across the nation.

Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho also announced an anti-human trafficking initiative for the public schools: a contest for students to come up with their own multi-media awareness campaigns. “We need to inspire students to speak out,’’ Carvalho said. “We have to talk about it so much that people can’t hide.”

Tuesday’s human trafficking forum was the second of three to be held at the University in a week. Last Friday, Miller School of Medicine students convened a daylong symposium, “

Human Trafficking: An Emerging Epidemic

,” to educate physicians, nurses, social workers, and law enforcement about the problem that Rundle’s office first recognized about five years ago—when Florida was cited as one of the nation’s human trafficking hot spots. 

And this Friday, January 30, the School of Education and Human Development, the Miami-Dade County Human Trafficking Coalition, and the Miami-Dade County Human Trafficking Collaborative Project are holding a “Human Trafficking in Miami and Our Local Response Conference” at the BankUnited Center. Faculty, staff, and students who wish to attend may RSVP to Ivon Mesa, of Miami-Dade’s Community Action and Human Services Department, at

Now housed at the School of Education, The Melissa Institute for Violence Prevention and Treatment is organizing a fourth forum, “Human Trafficking: Interrupting the Pathway to Victimization,” for Friday, May 1, also at the Newman Alumni Center. For more information or to register, visit