Melisha Keyes stood in front of a brown and orange backdrop Monday and held a sign that read “to be unashamed.”
The sign represented his idea of freedom.
Keyes was participating in Justice Week, an event designed to raise awareness about domestic and international human trafficking.
Fight Injustice Against Human Trafficking, or FIGHT, and Gators for Free the Slaves are co-hosting the week of events, which began Monday at the Plaza of the Americas. There are five other events this week.
Human trafficking is defined as “organized criminal activity in which human beings are treated as possessions to be controlled and exploited,” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
Prostitution and farming are the most popular forms of human trafficking, said Christopher Barton, the president of Gators for Free the Slaves.
“It’s straight up slavery,” Barton said. “It’s not working for little.”
Older men may use the “boyfriend mentality” to lure young women into human trafficking, said FIGHT volunteer Joyce Liu.
A man might wine and dine a young woman, Liu said, and by the time she is asked to prostitute herself, she is already brainwashed.
The Gainesville Child Advocacy Center is an organization that focuses on human trafficking victims.
Sherry Kitchens, the president and CEO of the center, will speak at the Price of Sex Symposium on Thursday. She said the Safe Harbor Act, which went into effect Jan. 1, helps child victims.
“They can be treated as victims rather than criminals,” Kitchens said.
Numbers and statistics don’t represent the problem, she said.
In 2011, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center received 19,427 calls. People in Florida made more than 800 of those calls.
Fourteen calls came from Gainesville, according to the center.
Kitchens said human trafficking is a crime traffickers can hide well.
“They are using people as commodities,” she said.
Eighty percent of human trafficking victims are women and children because they are the most vulnerable, Kitchens said. Runaway children are sometimes approached by someone working for commercial human trafficking within 48 hours, she said.
Keyes said he wants people to be aware the situation exists.
“I stand for what I believe in,” he said, “and fight for what I love.”
Justice Week events:
Monday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., a photo booth called “A Picture of Freedom” will be open to the public on the Plaza of the Americas.
Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the same event will be hosted in the Santa Fe College E Breezeway.
Tuesday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., the Hippodrome State Theatre will have a “Sex + Money” documentary screening. Visitors must RSVP to the event.
Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., the documentary will also be screened at Santa Fe College in WA104. The Human Trafficking Symposium: The Price of Sex will take place 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Reitz Union Rion Ballroom.
Friday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., Grace at Fort Clarke United Methodist Church is hosting a free night of music and art expression called “Restore Hearts.”
Saturday from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m., the Run Toward Justice 5K will be held at the Haile Plantation Village Center.