The Mission of HTAP
Because human trafficking is a hidden crime which can only be eradicated by an informed public supporting professional law enforcement and service providers, the mission of the Human Trafficking Awareness Partnerships is to bring the issue of human trafficking to the forefront of public awareness:
- By empowering Individual communities to take action through education, training and the coordination of resources.
- By creating partnerships of informed communities to share information, experiences,programs and best practices in order to make the work of each partner more effective and to extend efforts beyond local jurisdictions.
- By supporting primary research and disseminating information.
How did HTAP begin?
In June of 2004, a group of women on Sanibel Island, Florida, decided that they wanted to learn about human trafficking. The organization they belonged to, Zonta International, a worldwide organization of professional women and business executives with a mission of advancing the status of women worldwide was working on the issue in Bosnia-Herzegovina and they researched the issue to see if it existed in their community.
To their astonishment, they discovered that Florida had the second highest incidence of human trafficking in the nation and that it was a $32 billion dollar international criminal industry, second only to drug trafficking. They continued to research the issue and invited the local sheriff to breakfast to discuss the possibility of setting up a county task force.
A few months later, the first task force meeting was held and over 80 law enforcement, service providers, service club members, concerned citizens and media came. At that first meeting, a service provider realized that one of the residents of her foster care home fit the criteria of a trafficking victim and that another young woman was in the foster care system with all the signs of being a trafficking victim. Three weeks later, four people were arrested on charges of human trafficking and soon the second young victim received her certification as a trafficking victim, entitling her to rights under the Trafficking Victim Protection Act of 2000. She was soon moved to the group home along with her baby.
Since then, the local task force has been meeting, a statewide human trafficking task force has been funded, the Sheriff’s Office and a local service provider have received 3 federal grant and the community organization which was originally formed has been called a “national model of citizen activism”. Most importantly, the spirit of cooperation among law enforcement, service providers, community members and the media has led to rescues, arrests and prosecution and has been emulated by other communities as they form their own task forces. As Asst. US Attorney Doug Molloy says, "Because of heightened public awareness in Lee County, we have had more cases come to light than in most states". Currently, the Lee County Task Force has the largest number of successful nvestigations in the country according to the Sheriff’s Human Trafficking Unit. They now consider the entire Sheriff’s Department a “Human Trafficking Investigating Agency” as opposed to an agency with a human trafficking unit.
Since traffickers do not honor regional boundaries, often information is shared by multiple jurisdictions, encouraging and even requiring cooperation. Sucessful outcomes are always a group effort, especially in dealing with Human Trafficking.
In 2006, when literally dozens of organizations approached our founder to help start community task forces, Human Trafficking Awareness Partnerships was founded. (See Mission above.)
Who is HTAP?
These are our board members:
Two of women who spearheaded the formation of original Lee County, FL community task force,
Anti-Trafficking leaders of local Zonta Clubs,
A social worker and director of a human service programs at a university in Nevada.
A retired ophthalmologist who has performed free eye surgery as missionary in the Phillipines and Central and South America for 27 years, sponsored by Rotary and Zonta Clubs,
A woman with years of corporate experience in the financial industry who has raised money for many non-profits.
A woman with years of experience coordinating volunteers and fundraising for non-profits,
A lawyer who has worked with non-profits across the nation,
A lawyer who studied human rights in South Africa who has worked with an US Attorney who is a leading expert in human trafficking and who currently practices law in Washington, DC.
An accountant who has worked for many charitable foundations.
The President of the Institute of Human Rights based in South Florida.
We also have a large Advisory Board consisting of community leaders from around the country whom we have helped form their own task forces as well as law enforcement and service provider specialists from around the country and Canada. The Chair of the Advisory Board is Mr. Matt McGovern of Washington, DC.
We would like to add your talents to this list. It is through cooperation and the pooling of talents that we can eradicate slavery.
Our Executive Director:
Nola Theiss, the founder of HTAP, is its Executive Director. She is the founding Chair of the Coalition Against Human Trafficking in SW Florida, She has won numerous awards for her work in promoting human trafficking awareness. She and a HTAP board member spoke at an international conference in Melbourne, Australia in June, 2006 and in Nassau, Bahamas in September, 2005 as well as in many cities in the United States, including Lawrence, KS, Austin, TX, Oklahoma City, OK, Hilton Head, SC, Lisle, IL, Raleigh, NC, Colorado Springs, CO, Birmingham, AL, Glens Falls, NY and many Florida cities. She has also spoken to groups in Canada and Poland. These events range from task force organizing events, bar association conferences, probation officer conferences, film festivals and panel discussions on community efforts. She has also taught 16 community organization trainings through the FL Regional Community Policing Institute and has spoken to many professional conferences for paralegals, probation officers, social workers, forensic investigators, etc.
Human trafficking can best be combated through public awareness and action. As Nola says, victims come first, but first you have to find the victims. Public awareness and outreach find victims. As Doug Molloy, chief assistant US Attorney in Fort Meyers has said, “One reason we have seen more arrests here in Lee county than in some states is because the community is aware of the problem”. The anti-trafficking campaign in SW Florida has been “outstanding”, according to Molloy.The work done in SW Florida is featured in two docudramas, Hallmark’s “Lives for Sale” and Compassion Film’s “Cargo: Innocence Lost”. Currently, the local sheriff’s office credits our training and awareness and a proactive and collaborative approach to investigation and recovery of victims for a 75% increase in cases reported in the last year.
She has spoken about human trafficking to over 14000 people in five countries and has been quoted in numerous newspaper and television features. She was an organizing partner and presenter at a National Conference on Human Trafficking held in February, 2006 and served as the Coordinator of the local task force. She spoke at the Florida Statewide Human Trafficking Task Force Summit in 2009. She has attended trainings nationally and internationally, including the UN.Gift Initiative in Vienna, Austria in 2008. She works with faith based organizations which are building anti-trafficking projects within their churches and denominations as well as women’s organizations such as Soroptimist International, Zonta International, DAR, and Association of University Women as well as many professional organizations.
Theiss is the former mayor of Sanibel, FL and holds a Masters in Public Administration as well as degrees from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Illinois. For 7 years, she has dedicated herself to the issue of human trafficking - fighting it through public awareness and using the skills she has developed through her work as an educator, writer, administrator, public official and scholar, helping communities form their own community based organizations. She has received numerous awards including national recognition as a Purpose Prize Fellow.