Florida Department of Health Addresses Human Trafficking after Disaster
This National Preparedness Month, we are grateful to the Florida Department of Health in Bay County for proactively raising awareness about human trafficking in the wake of Hurricane Michael and for sharing their story with us.
Guest Article from the Florida Department of Health in Bay County
Bay County: Illuminating the Darkness in a Post-Disaster Community
On October 10, 2018, the strongest hurricane to ever hit the Florida Panhandle made direct landfall in Bay County. The result was catastrophic, and a time of immediate response and recovery began. As the weeks progressed, concerns regarding violent crimes and power-based personal violence (PBPV) increased for our area. By the end of October, local news stations were reporting a “surge of domestic violence” as the Bay County Sheriff’s Office fought to combat the increase of violent crimes. Likewise, concerns for the months to come began to grow as the “perfect storm” for PBPV and human trafficking (HT) began to brew: a county inundated with out-of-state workers mingling with out-of-state college students visiting for spring break. Few resources for HT prevention and awareness existed in Bay County. Local awareness was minimal, though the need was great.
The time to act came in January of 2019 when the #LookBeneathTheSurface campaign was launched through the Florida Department of Health in Bay County. Posters, stickers, and bookmarks with the National Human Trafficking Hotline number and the #LookBeneathTheSurface message were disseminated through the county, with a focus on the most at-risk populations and high-volume areas. Area clinics, libraries, special needs schools, domestic violence centers, youth criminal justice organizations, LGBTQ centers, GED programs, and more received materials for posting and distribution. Staff presented to area health forums and task forces and within local youth centers. Awareness campaigns were created and over 150 public health staff were educated on the warning signs of trafficking. By the end of our efforts , over 2,800 residents and partners had been directly reached, with countless thousands (or tens of thousands) reached by exposure to #LookBeneathTheSurface campaign materials in high-volume areas.
In a month’s time, a tangible cultural shift regarding human trafficking in Bay County began to take place. The Health Department began to receive consistent requests for human trafficking education and information. School- and youth-based organizations began requesting resources for students and parents. Local media attention finally began to swing in the direction of trafficking prevention and awareness. In a time of impending need, a little education began to spread a long, long way.
These local efforts also increased sustainability of program goals and increased partnership impact. Department of Health-Bay staff were able to maximize human trafficking prevention and awareness efforts by partnering with The Trindi Initiative and the Circuit 14 Human Trafficking Task Force. Likewise, these efforts caught the attention of major players in Bay County, from pediatricians to educators to decision-makers.
In every storm, there is a silver lining. This is a time of transition for Bay County’s health and safety efforts, as well as our prevention and education focuses. The #LookBeneathTheSurface campaign is truly a beacon of light illuminating the darkness left in Hurricane Michael’s wake. This season of community togetherness and focus on safety serves as a prime opportunity for Florida Department of Health in Bay County staff to reach out to their neighbors via human trafficking/sexual violence/PBPV education and awareness, building a healthier, safer future for Bay County as an entire community is rebuilt.