Group gets funds to free enslaved people

Published October 8, 2006

NAPLES - A southwest Florida group that fights human trafficking has landed a contract to help rescue more victims and open three more offices in the state.

The Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking won a contract worth $666,668 next year as part of a new national program to find victims of human trafficking, federal officials said.

Coalition leaders plan to use the money to open offices in Tampa, Miami and Pensacola. It already has offices in Jacksonville and Bonita Springs.

This could complement a Clearwater police task force devoted to rescuing victims of human trafficking and arresting the smugglers. That effort is funded a $450,000 federal grant. Clearwater is the only city in Florida to receive such a grant.

Carol Nelson, outreach and community relations director for Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking, said the group also will look to give money to grass roots organizations that could provide shelter, crisis intervention and health and legal benefits to human trafficking victims.

"We want to get the bad guys, but the first concern is the victims," Nelson said. "What we need to do is free these people who are enslaved."

Anna Rodriguez, the coalition's president, said her group has worked with nine trafficking victims since it began in 2004, including cases involving Guatemalan girls with babies.

Martha Newton, director of the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, said groups such as the Florida coalition will take the lead in deciding how to spend federal dollars on a state level.