Human Trafficking Symposium emboldens students to take a stand

February 2, 2018
Andrea Carla Lopez
photographer: Zach Chou

University of Florida’s second annual Human Trafficking Symposium on Tuesday, Jan. 30, brought together nonprofits, experts and survivors of human trafficking to shed light on the complexity of the issue, while also giving students and attendees a message of hope. The symposium was hosted by the Gators Against Human Trafficking and Bob Graham Center Student Fellows, and co-sponsored by the UF Chapter of the National Organization for Women.

The event kicked off with Savannah Parvu, a survivor of human trafficking and advocate, who shared her harrowing personal experience that started when she was five years old.

“You don’t tell what happens at home,” Parvu said. Her parents warned her to never reveal the harsh realities that went on at home, such as her parents’ drug abuse, which ultimately led to her own mother forcing her into prostitution for years.

According to Lisa Rowe, vice president of Selah Freedom, an anti-human trafficking organization dedicated to educating the community and helping survivors, Parvu’s story is not uncommon. In fact, Rowe added that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys are sexually assaulted, all of which are underreported crimes.

“This is the cause that’s worth everything law can offer,” said Frank Williams, assistant U.S. Attorney. On the panel, he shared that his prosecution of more than 18 Gainesville human traffickers were made possible through a victim-centered approach that focuses on stabilizing victims and offering support. Williams then went on to inspire the audience of nearly 80 by emphasizing that his message was hopeful and encouraging.

“Every time we take one of these traffickers off the street, every victim that we help, we will change the world,” Williams said. He added that most common misconception is that we can’t make a difference. Through awareness and stopping the promotion of abuse, he said in fact, we can change the culture that allows this trafficking market to grow.

Richard Tovar, President of Fight Injustice and Global Human Trafficking (FIGHT), continued the call to action by telling the audience that changing culture means making situations uncomfortable if it doesn’t seem right. Adding that when we stop the normalization of degradation of people bodies, for example, in pornography, we help fight the cycle of trafficking.

CEO of the Trafficking in America Task Force, Jerome Elam, also went on to rally the audience to push legislators to support harsher penalties for traffickers and long-term aftercare for survivors.

Speakers at the event also included Alison Ungaro, founder of the Gainesville nonprofit organization, Created; Nicole Ferranti, investigator for the Florida Department of Children and Families; and Anorine Ledet, a special agent for Homeland Security’s Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency.

Williams left the audience with a call to action: step forward when something seems off. “That’s what I learned about this cause – it’s going to take a team effort.”

To watch an archive of the event, visit

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