Human trafficking group iEmpathize visits Valencia



“Our projects have spanned the globe, however, local levels are the most effective. Community-based partnership and empowerment continue to drive our work,” Director Mariana Loboguerrero said.

Kristen Boxhorn, Contributor

The task force group iEmpathize recently gave a presentation at the Valencia College Peace and Justice Institute to talk about an issue that they have been combating relentlessly and they say can happen to anyone: human trafficking.

 One way they combat human trafficking is through their Empower Youth Program, which aims to equip youth with personal safety strategies and nurture their empathy for others; an approach that Mariana Loboguerrero, director of the iEmpathize Orlando hub, feels sets them apart from other task forces.

 “Our projects have spanned the globe, however, local levels are the most effective.  Community-based partnership and empowerment continue to drive our work,” Loboguerrero said.

Tamara Madison, a Valencia creative writing professor, was among those in attendance.

“I learned that young people, as well as parents and professionals in transportation, education, and law enforcement all need to be aware of the signs of possible trafficking. It has grown to be a global and immediate community issue,” Madison said. “I can honestly say that I, myself, did not realize how expansive the problem is in Orlando and globally. Students actually brought it to my attention just how pervasive the problem is in Florida”

Gabriela Isaacs, a Valencia student event attendee, said that she was already aware of the dangers of human trafficking, but the presentation helped it get “brought back into the realm of thought.”

In Florida, 466 human trafficking cases were reported in 2019; with 372 cases from females and 63 from males according to the Polaris Project, a nonprofit organization that works to combat modern-day slavery and human trafficking. The state of Florida gets the third-most number of calls of any about to report human trafficking, according to a 2019 report by the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

“We knew this is the critical area where we wanted to set our hub for the east coast,” Loboguerrero said in response to this statistic.

 The group is currently working with the Department of Health of Seminole County to provide education programs for youth at risk of human trafficking by collaborating with the juvenile detention center, church groups, and after school programs.

 iEmpathize has also worked with a program called the Parramore Kidz Zone (PKZ), whose mission is “to reduce juvenile crime, teen pregnancy, and high school drop-out rates in Orlando’s highest poverty neighborhood, and ultimately replicate this model in other Orlando neighborhoods.”

Members of the Orlando hub provided adults who work within the PKZ a two-day training seminar to teach them about human trafficking and how they can prevent PKZ children from being targeted.

 iEmpathize will be hosting a fundraising event in Orlando some time mid-year and will be conducting a training with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department this summer.