COLLIER COUNTY, Fla- An important message was delivered at a very special event in Immokalee on Saturday.
The Collier County Sheriff's Office and other agencies hosted the 5th annual "A Day Without Slavery" at the Immokalee Community Park.
The event featured face-painting, arts and crafts, and even a pony. But along with the kid-friendly features was a serious theme that the organizers want us all to be aware of.
"What it is, is to raise awareness for the human trafficking in Collier County," says Sgt. Wade Williams with the Exploitation Section of the Colier County Sheriff's Office. "We've come out here to kind of bring the information to the community, and work with the community to show them that this is happening."
Elizabeth Donovan teaches the Human Trafficking Law Clinic at the Ave Maria School of Law. She says it's a problem that is on the rise in the U.S.
"One of the reasons it's on the rise is because the work of the traffickers is too easy," she says. "And one of the reasons it's too easy is because so many people are completely unaware that labor and sex trafficking happens in the United States."
While the idea behind "A Day Without Slavery" is to raise awareness about human trafficking, it's also a chance for the Collier County Sheriff's Office and other agencies to reach out to the community, regardless of immigration status.
"What's really special about this event is the Collier County Sheriff's Office has a presence here," says Donovan. "So they're sending a message that if you do need help, you should approach the Sheriff's Office, and feel comfortable doing so."
Sgt. Williams says there are some signs that might indicate someone you know is being held against their will.
"Another person has control of their cell phone, another person has control of their activities or almost acts as their manager," he says.
"If you see a house with a lot of men coming and going, and young girls dressed inappropriately seem to be coming and going as well, that should spark something," adds Donovan. "Maybe it's not a problem, but that's worth a call."
She says while it's important to recognize this unfortunate aspect of modern society, it's even more important to take action.
"The only way we can stop it is if people are more aware and more involved, and when they see something, they contact law enforcement."
Other partners at the event included the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Shelter for Abused Women and Children.