Sex trafficking can and does happen anywhere and everywhere.
Two local young women, Claire Welton, a senior at Seven Rivers Christian School, and Paloma Bavcevic, a student at the University of Florida, hope to bring awareness to this growing problem by sponsoring a presentation from Created Gainesville, a nonprofit organization that helps women caught in sex trafficking and sexual exploitation to escape this life and start a new life.
Created was founded in Tampa in 2007 and in Gainesville in 2012.
Tickets for the “Priceless: Redefine Worth” event at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 24, at Seven Rivers Church, 4221 W. Gulf-to-Lake Highway, Lecanto, are $10 and available online at CreatedGainesville.org or at the door.
This is a fundraiser for Created Gainesville and a National Honor Society service project for Claire Welton.
Claire said she and Paloma had watched the movie, “Priceless,” which deals with sex trafficking, and started reading more about it, news articles and books like "Redeeming Love," "In Our Backyard" and "Girls Like Us."
“We realized it’s a huge issue, but nobody really talks about it,” Claire said.
After Paloma learned of this from a church pastor and then met Created Gainesville founder Alison Ungaro, she and Claire Welton decided they wanted to do something to help young women to be aware that this can easily happen to them.
“One of the biggest misconceptions is that these girls are kidnapped, but a lot of times they’re presented with a ‘job opportunity’ or they meet a new, older boyfriend,” Paloma said. “People think that if they’re not kidnapped, then they want to do this (prostitution). The way they keep them doing it is through threats and coercion.”
Claire added that another misconception is that sex trafficking only happens in other countries or big cities.
Florida is the third highest state in the U.S. for sex trafficking, behind California and New York, and neighboring Marion and Hernando counties have had numerous trafficking arrests, including the May 2019 arrests of the owner of the Chefs of Napoli, who had one of his restaurants in Citrus County, and also two other Citrus County men.
“We want to raise awareness and also to let girls who are caught up in this to know that they are loved and they are seen,” Paloma said. “There’s a lot of judgment around the topic, because people don’t really understand what goes into it, the mind games and the manipulation that happens. ... It’s important to let them know that there are people who care.”
For more information about Created Gainesville, go online at CreatedGainesville.org.