This video story was reported and produced by Niamh Larkin. The Web story was edited and published by Jerome Murray.
The Florida Dream Center, led by its founder Bill Losasso, is working vigorously to put a stop to the growing human trafficking problem in the Tampa Bay region. The nonprofit organization’s goal is to rescue trafficking survivors and to help them heal mentally and physically.
Human trafficking is an issue that is prevalent throughout the country. According to statistics from the National Human Trafficking Hotline, the state of Florida ranks third in total number of human trafficking cases, reporting 896 cases in 2019, behind only Texas, and California. This is an increase from 760 cases the year prior. With one mission in mind, Losasso and the Florida Dream Center in St. Petersburg have rescued and provided a safe space for many survivors.
“Girls are brought to us from around the country and in desperate need of where to live, how to, they don’t know that we’ve had 88 of them come or contacted in last year” said Losasso. “We have 30 that came in the program and 11 are on a waiting list.”
While the Florida Dream Center has been able to help locally, Losasso and the organization also have been able to push further even helping international survivors from a wide range of ages.
“We’ve had survivors from Russia, from Brazil, from Mexico, Guatemala. And the youngest one we have currently is six years old” said Losasso.
While making strides, the pandemic has not made combating human trafficking any easier, according to Losasso. The traffickers and sex customers, called johns, do not face the same hurdles.
“The johns, they don’t care about the pandemic. They’re thinking about themselves. It means really nothing that’s going on” said Losasso. “Like it was especially with the internet now it’s being easier to hook up. It’s easier to do all that stuff.”
For many survivors, the fight continues long after coming to the Dream Center, dealing with effects from post-traumatic stress disorder and Stockholm syndrome. The traumas these people deal with was hard to believe for Losasso.
“Big strong people get hurt bad by PTSD. And so our girls have that on such a level, it’s unthinkable” said Losasso.
According to a study conducted by pubmed.gov, 95 percent of human trafficking survivors attempted or considered suicide.
Losasso hopes the resources they provide at the Florida Dream Center can help survivors rebuild their lives. They offer crafting sessions, a buddy system and a boutique. In addition to helping survivors, Losasso also hopes more people are inspired to prevent this from happening in the first place.
If you suspect someone is vulnerable to human trafficking call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888. For more information on how to help please visit floridadreamcenter.org.