During the week of Feb. 3, FIGHT Inc. hosted Justice Week, a five-day campaign that aimed at increasing awareness about domestic human trafficking and slavery.
BY: HEATHER REINBLATT
An estimated 244,000 children are at risk of being trafficked in the U.S. every year, even in Alachua County.
Richard Tovar, president of FIGHT, said Justice Week was organized in hopes of motivating residents to do something about the issue.
“I think people don’t realize that trafficking does occur here in the U.S.,” Tovar said. “They think it only happens in places like Southeast Asia or Cambodia, but it probably happens here as much as it happens there.”
The campaign consisted of five events that were held at the University of Florida, Hippodrome Theatre and Cymplify Central. Topics ranged from freedom to domestic servitude.
This year, FIGHT collaborated with Gators Against Human Trafficking, the Alachua County Coalition Against Human Trafficking, the Marion County Human Trafficking Task Force and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida.
On Saturday, the campaign ended with a 5K at Haile Plantation Golf and Country Club. Tovar said this is the third Justice Week that FIGHT has put together and the fifth 5K.
One of the main goals of Justice Week, Tovar said, was to get residents to look at trafficking from a supply and demand perspective.
“What we see as the big problem is that people buy sex,” he said. “The only way to supply that demand is to traffic children into it.”
Tovar said a 14-year-old girl was rescued last year after being trafficked in Gainesville for more than a year. The people who were involved were also from Gainesville. “In the U.S., a lot of runaway kids are being forced, coerced or trafficked,”Tovar said. “I know it’s not a pretty thing to teach, but I think we need to look at it. We need to talk about it.”
Local artist Jenn Garnett, who first heard of FIGHT at a lecture series a year ago, contributed to the campaign by constructing life-size sculptures of trafficking victims.
Garnett said she wanted the sculptures to serve as a memorial.
“The sculpture is about the viewers and people looking at them, but it also serves as a memorial,” Garnett said. “In human trafficking, there are a lot of victims that may never be found and who may never find peace.”
Each figure is cut from two identical aluminum plates and features a QR code on the face.
When the viewer scans the code onto their phone, they are taken to a local news story about a trafficked victim. Garnett said she placed the QR codes on the face to represent dehumanization.
“Sticking the QR code on the face really functions to dehumanize the figure,” Garnett said. “Those people have been commoditized.”
Garnett said her sculptures represent an issue that can be more effectively dealt with at a local level rather than at an international level.
“I feel very strongly that the best way to fight this enormous, awful and worldwide problem is to start right here in Gainesville,” Garnett said. “Not to say we shouldn’t be stopping it in other countries at the same time, but it’s such a big problem that I feel like we have the best chance at stopping it here first.”