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Kimberly Overman: Hillsborough County’s zero tolerance for human trafficking

This must end in our community.

Connie grew up in an upper-middle-class Christian family, lived in a waterfront suburban community, and excelled at Jefferson High school as a dancerette, model and beauty pageant competitor.

While most girls planned their Sweet 16 birthday parties, Connie became a victim of sex trafficking by a serial sex offender father who was also her pimp. She was that girl next door.

No one ever suspected she was being sold for sex — before and after school, during lunch and at night. She was the party favor while classmates and friends were tucked away safe, at home in their beds.

The Polaris Project reported Florida as the third highest state with calls into the National Human Trafficking Hotline and Hillsborough County leading the state.

These shocking statistics indicate two key factors: the phenomenal job our advocates are doing across the state to raise awareness, yet the high numbers of calls demonstrate the pervasive prevalence of human trafficking in our communities.

Human trafficking isn’t only a foreign concept — where victims are captively being brought to America from other countries.

Unfortunately, this insidious crime is occurring in our own backyards: to our sons, daughters, sisters, brothers. It is happening so frequently that it has disguised itself as part of our daily/normal routines. Even hourly.

The hourly hotel and motel rentals fueling this industry.

Our advocacy and awareness work as it relates to human trafficking has focused mostly on the supply side of the supply-and-demand dynamic of this issue.

By proposing a prohibition to hourly hotel/motel room rentals, it directly addresses demand. Local business owners permitting short-term lodging rentals, especially to the same person within a 24-hour period, are usually knowledgeable about the activity occurring in their establishment, but have turned a blind eye or aren’t equipped with resources to deny service and bring perpetrators to justice.

Nevertheless, this lack of action has stimulated the industry demand by providing locations for this activity to take place.

This must end in our community.

During the Feb. 20, 2019, Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners meeting, I directed the County Attorney’s Office and County staff to analyze other municipalities who have implemented local ordinances to address hourly lodging rentals, reviewing state and federal legislation for potential pre-emption issues or industry regulations.

Should no potential obstacles exist, staff should bring a county ordinance proposal for BOCC consideration. I’m committed to exploring every possible legislative opportunity to increase accountability targeting local bad actors.

I’ve urged the Florida Legislature to prioritize human trafficking during the 2019 Legislative Session and offered my support on SB 540 and HB 851 — these bills provide the accountability we need to protect our victims and ensure safeguards so additional women, men, and children won’t get trapped in this toxic system.

 I fully support these proposals and appreciate this Legislature’s serious consideration. This is a cross-sector issue and I appreciate the leadership of our business owners and criminal justice leaders who’ve demonstrated their early support: The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, Sheriff Chad Chronister and State Attorney Andrew Warren.

Working in tandem with this potential legislation, it’s beyond time local government established a committee dedicated for all partners together to proactively identify and implement solutions for awareness, prevention and victim support services.

The silos that have been long-standing in our community must be taken down. By bringing this core group of leaders together, we create a space to maximize resources and be most effective.

Hillsborough County is ground zero.

Establishing this task force not only helps us best prepare for the 2021 Super Bowl, but also the entertainment and business conventions that are growing in our region. Establishing a zero-tolerance for human trafficking in our community.

We must do this for Connie and for so many others trapped by this crime, and I am committed to this fight as your Hillsborough County Commissioner.

___

A 34-year resident of the Tampa Bay area, Kimberly Overman was elected to the County Commission in 2018. Kimberly raised two children and launched and run several successful businesses. She is a certified financial planner and CEO of The Financial Well, Inc., a fee-only registered investment advisory firm and owner of The Heights Exchange, LLC, a coworking space for small-business owners.

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