Nearly 100 parents and other community members residing in Palmetto Bay and neighboring communities gathered on Thursday, Jan. 14, at Southwood Middle School to participate in a symposium to receive important information on the growth of human trafficking in our county, state and nation.
A star-studded panel of experts on the issue, headed by Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle, provided statistics and information helpful to parents in recognizing the signs and signals of human trafficking.
Organized by representatives from the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW); PTA/PTSA leadership at Southwood Middle and Coral Reef Elementary schools, and Jean Tong-Noon, who heads up the Thread of Life program in Cutler Bay, parents from elementary and middle schools in Palmetto Bay, Cutler Bay and Pinecrest were invited to attend.
The program began with a detailed presentation from NCJW representatives Carole Bernstein and Annette Katz (both Palmetto Bay residents).
“South Florida leads the state in the number of incidents with Ft. Lauderdale leading the nation in cyber cases of human trafficking,” Katz said. “It’s so important that all of our community-based organizations and government entities are able to come together to inform parents. The more that is known, the better chance we have to protect our children.”
Children ages 12-14 are most vulnerable in being trafficked, with one in three middle school students being approached annually.
“As an advocate for parents of elementary age children, it was important to me that they were made aware of the human trafficking predators looking at their children as a commodity,” said Erica Watts, Coral Reef Elementary PTSA president. “The feedback from the parents who attended was mostly shock at the statistics and testimony yet they were grateful to walk away with tools to help them protect their children.”
The NCJW presentation was followed by a panel of speakers including Fernandez-Rundle, representatives from the Florida District Attorney’s Office and the FBI. Miami-Dade School Board vice chair Larry Feldman also was among the speakers.
“As part of the Palmetto Bay community and active educators, it was important to do our part and host the Human Trafficking Symposium presented by NCJW and Thread of Life,” said Corey Espinosa, Southwood Middle PTSA president. “The collaboration of these organizers, as well as Coral Reef Elementary PTSA resulted in an eye-opening, thought provoking and engaging presentation for our parents. Awareness is paramount.”
All speakers emphasized that if people see something, they should say something. The National Human Trafficking Hotline number is 1-888-373-7888.