Over the last half-century, college spring break trips to Florida have become a cliché. The details may vary, but the stories of these trips always seem to be the same: hard-partying and excessive drinking. This cliché is so prevalent that it was recently immortalized in the controversial 2012 film Spring Breakers, which took the Florida spring break stereotype to its logical, debauched extreme.
But in addition to being a hub for rowdy spring break partying, Florida is also a hub for a very different kind of activity: human sex-trafficking. In fact, Miami is the third highest trafficked area in the U.S. And four Montreat students decided to skip the cliché and spend their spring break in Miami, learning about sex-trafficking and volunteering to help fight it.
Upon arriving in Florida, the students worked with SOL Media, a non-profit Christian organization which equips communities to prevent sex-trafficking, intervenes to protect at-risk women and children from sexual exploitation, and provides opportunities for the healing, recovery, and restoration of survivors.
The Montreat students’ initial training with SOL Media dispelled a number of myths about the sex industry and taught them about the complex nature of human sex-trafficking. For instance, the students learned that over 50% of the women in the sex industry are minors who have been forced into it against their will. And over 90% of these children have past experiences of child and sex abuse and are properly viewed, not as criminals, but as the victims of psychological manipulation and sexual violence.
Once their training was completed, the students spent the rest of the week volunteering in two specific areas. The first was raising community awareness about sex-trafficking by visiting hotel managers in Miami’s tourist-oriented South Beach area in order to present them with a list of missing minors, talk to them about the prevalence of sex-trafficking in Miami, help them to identify sex-trafficking when it comes to their hotels, and tell them how they should report such incidents to the police (as “sex-trafficking victims” rather than “prostitution”).
The second way in which the Montreat students volunteered was by reaching out directly to the sex workers themselves via phone. The women in the group were trained in flagging online ads soliciting sex for signs of sex-trafficking—most typically minors. They would then proceed to call the women—using a script provided by SOL Media—in order to ask if they were safe, make them aware of the resources available to them, and then ask if they could pray with them.
The experience of learning about and confronting sex-trafficking was a powerful one for the Montreat students, and they are determined to continue the fight against human sex-trafficking even now that they are back at Montreat.
“Our students came away with hearts burdened by this tremendous need and eager to find ways to raise awareness in our community,” said Montreat College chaplain David Taylor, who accompanied the students on their Miami trip. “The team has also had discussions about specific ways the students want to do this, such as plan a 5k to raise money and awareness, talk to family members who are in the trucking business (where trafficking is prevalent), [and] get involved with local ministries that also are confronting sex-trafficking.”