The Abolish Movement officially commenced Saturday afternoon at Lykes Gaslight Park in downtown Tampa. The rally brought together organizations and volunteers hoping to raise awareness of the epidemic of human trafficking in Florida, referred to by most in attendance by the plainer term of child sex slavery.
The Abolish Movement was created through a partnership between the Junior League of Tampa and Ad 2 Tampa Bay, an organization aimed at young advertising professionals, with its goals being to raise community awareness of the scope of human trafficking, empowering the community to report suspicious activity, and reaching victims who need to know where to go for help.
“We're an organization of 1,800 women and our mission is to develop the potential of women, to improve our community and promote volunteering,” said Junior League of Tampa President Lee Lowry. “One of our focused areas is child welfare. Specifically we work with a lot of kids in foster care. One of the most at risk populations for this crime is foster kids, runaways. We started hearing, about two or three years ago now, on a local level that this was a really big issue. So when we heard that, we just knew that we had to get involved.”
Ad 2 cited the startling revelations of Florida's reputation of human trafficking for their involvement. The organization devised and will execute the marketing campaign of the Abolish Movement pro bono.
“When we heard the facts of how Tampa Bay is a hotbed in Florida and Florida is the number three state in the country for human trafficking and that the average age of a prostitute was 12 years old, when you start hearing those facts, we couldn't not do something about it,” said Randi Sether, a director for Ad 2.
The Abolish Movement looks to utilize more than 100 groups in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco as it develops. Those who made their presence felt at the rally included the Joshua House, First Baptist Church of Tampa, Created, and the Heartdance Foundation, among others. The event also featured several food trucks and a performance by the local band 10th Concession.
Notable attendees included Ross Spano of the Florida House of Representatives and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. Both took the opportunity to speak to the crowd before the event ended with a candlelight vigil.
“I'm supportive of what the Junior League is doing, anything that raises awareness of the issue I'm jazzed about,” said Spano, who sponsored last year's Victims of Human Trafficking Vacating Convictions Bill. “A great deal of progress has been made in the last few years, more still needs to be done. Honestly, the people that are engaged know a lot about it but if you go out there and talk to somebody on the street, most people don't know. There's still a lot that needs to be done in regards to awareness and I think this effort is going to go a long way toward that.”
“It's important that we do events like this,” said Buckhorn. “It's important that we acknowledge that there is a problem and it's important that we tell people what the consequences of this really vicious, awful experience that these young girls go through and more importantly is that we do something about it. Getting the Junior League involved, getting the creative community with the ad campaign really makes a difference cause that words go to spread. It's like the quit smoking or the seatbelt campaigns, this is important. This is making a difference in the lives of women and young children that desperately need it.”