For Jacksonville attorney Crystal Freed, raising awareness about the issue of human trafficking has been a priority since her days as a student at Georgetown Law School.
In 2001 Freed heard a talk by Laura J. Lederer, a pioneer in the work to stop human trafficking.
“I felt a calling,” Freed said. “This really is slavery. Trafficking is sort of a scrubbed term that makes it seem less atrocious.”
Which is why Freed began planning last summer for a multimedia campaign that could raise awareness of human trafficking in Jacksonville.
She was hoping to be able to mount such a campaign in 2015. But then she became aware of the work of Kay Chernush, a photographer who is founder/director of ArtWorks for Freedom. Chernush, who has been photographing human trafficking around the world, has created a multimedia approach to raising awareness about and combating modern slavery.
That multimedia exhibit and surrounding activities arrived in Jacksonville in late January. There have been indoor exhibits, titled “Borderless Captivity,” at Jacksonville University and the Florida State College at Jacksonville’s Kent Campus.
“Bought & Sold: Voices of Human Trafficking,” an outdoor exhibit, started at Edward Waters College. It moved to Hemming Plaza Monday. Sponsors of the exhibit plan a major kickoff for the campaign during Art Walk, with Chernush and Barbara Amaya, a survivor of human trafficking who has recently published a graphic novel, “The Destiny of Zoe Carpenter,” present in Hemming Plaza. “Bought & Sold: Voices of Human Trafficking” will continue in Hemming Plaza through Feb. 14, then the University of North Florida campus Feb. 15. All of the exhibits will continue through Feb. 28.
The lead sponsor of ArtWorks for Freedom Jax is the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center. The Florida Coastal School of Law and The Freed Law Firm are also sponsors.
According to the United Nations, there are 27 million people being trafficked globally, 80 percent women and children. The U.S. Justice Department has estimated that 200,000 to 300,000 American children are at risk of commercial sexual exploitation annually.
Florida ranks third among states, behind just New York and California, in the number of cases of human trafficking, according to research by the Florida State University Center for the Advancement of Human Rights.
And it does happen here, said Lawanda Ravoira, CEO of the Weaver Policy Center.
“People think human trafficking is a third world problem,” she said. “But it’s right in the community. And it’s not just in somebody else’s neighborhood. It’s a hidden scourge happening all over the community. All of our children are at risk.”
There have been several prosecutions and convictions of human traffickers arrested in Jacksonville. For example, in 2011 Ian Sean Gordon was sentenced to life in prison by U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard after he was convicted of forcing a 15-year-old to prostitute herself with about 50 men in a Philips Highway motel.
Ravoira and Freed say they have four major goals they want people to take away from ArtWorks for Freedom Jax:
■ Inform yourself and share what you know with family and friends.
■ Join Voices for Florida’s Girls at www.voicesforflorida.org/membership.
■ Lobby to protect the Safe Harbor Act, a law that treats victims of trafficking as victims, not criminals.
■ Report suspected traffickers by calling (888) 373-7888.
Telisia Espinosa of Tampa, a survivor of human trafficking and now an activist, will speak at 7 p.m. Feb. 13 in Jacksonville University’s Gooding Auditorium. Her talk will be followed by the screening of the human trafficking film “Not My Life.”
Benjamin Skinner, author of “A Crime So Monstrous” will speak at 6 p.m. Feb. 21 at the University of North Florida’s Robinson Theater.
For more information, go to usa.artworksforfreedom.org.
Charlie Patton: (904) 359-4413