Pamela Woody rolled down her window as she drove through the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks.
“This restaurant is one of Rachael Ray’s favorite places,” said Woody, pointing to a crowded Greek restaurant. “And that building up ahead, that’s where my friend was sold to different men by her own father.”
Woody is the founder of the Tampa Bay Advocates Against Human Trafficking, a non-profit organization that seeks to prevent human-trafficking movements and assist survivors in the Tampa Bay area.
Woody was exposed to human trafficking in 2007 when a law enforcement officer visited her church. He was hoping to find support and encouragement for a 12-year-old girl who was impregnated by her trafficker.
“We had a shower for her and she didn’t attend — but we didn’t expect her to,” Woody said. “Other churches that were asked to help were putting restraints on her. They would say, ‘If she did this, we will help her,’ which is really no different than what the traffickers were doing to her.”
In 2010, Woody went on to work with World Relief Tampa, an anti-trafficking organization, as a mission mobilizer and helped raise local awareness about human trafficking.
“When I worked with World Relief Tampa, I saw a lot of organizations that were fighting against the same thing, but they weren’t coming together and funneling their efforts together,” Woody said.
“I hope we’re able to raise awareness to the devastation of human trafficking and change laws so they’ll protect the victims and prosecute the offenders,” said Deedee Larreau, a volunteer with Tampa Bay Advocates Against Human Trafficking. “We want to help all of the agencies of the Tampa Bay area work together to end this travesty.”
Woody: “In the community, we are contacted to do presentations. We’ve gone with survivors and had the opportunity to speak at a high school all the way in St. Augustine.”
Woody manages Tampa Bay Advocates Against Human Trafficking’s social media accounts. She uses them to encourage and support other organizations while also posting updates on important legislation.
“There is a bill before the senate right now that will require businesses to post human-trafficking posters in all businesses,” Woody said. “It’s similar to the Workers’ Compensation posters you see, which would be an amazing accomplishment.”
According to the U.S. Department of State and the Bureau of Public Affairs, people can be taken into trafficking by many means, including physical force, marriage and false job opportunities.
“When you go to parties, take your own drink that has a lid, and when you go to the bathroom, take it with you,” Woody said. “It seems gross, taking a drink to the bathroom, but someone could put something in there, with or without a lid.”
College-age students, male and female, are at a high risk of being trafficked, according to Woody.
“If you have a roommate, keep track of each other. Keep common sense because you never know what’s going to happen.”
Woody will speak at USF Tampa on Monday, April 13, at 6 p.m. in the MSC Oval Theater. The event will be hosted by Sigma Delta Tau and Pi Kappa Phi.