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Human Trafficking Awareness Month: Devereux Florida on supporting survivors and advocating for change 

“We want to ensure sexually exploited youth are not defined by what happened to them but, instead, given a fresh start at life.” 
- Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health Florida Program Manager Erin Wirsing

Every year, millions of people around the world are victims of human trafficking. In the U.S., Florida ranks third in the number of calls to the National Human Trafficking hotline. Many of these calls are in reference to children who are lured into commercial sexual exploitation or labor through force, fraud or coercion. 

In addition to the larger Devereux organization, Devereux Florida is working to combat this form of modern-day slavery by raising awareness and understanding.  

“We have a responsibility in our state and in our communities to not only provide high-quality, evidence-based programs and services to those who have experienced this unimaginable trauma and abuse, but also identify and protect children and adolescents who are at risk for commercial sexual exploitation,” said Wirsing. “Our ultimate goal is to grant hope and healing to individuals in need, and empower them to take control of their lives and thrive.”  

A story of survival

One individual who is embracing her new life – thanks to support from Devereux Florida – is “Jesse.” (Jesse’s name was changed to protect her identity.)  

When Jesse was a young child living abroad, her parents dreamed of a better life for her in the U.S., and sent her to live with extended family in Florida. Feeling alone and abandoned, Jesse began to act out. Her family felt they had no choice but to place her in foster care.  

Unable to make emotional connections, Jesse moved between group homes and sought comfort from people who pressured her into making a living on the streets.  

Everything changed when Jesse enrolled in Devereux Florida’s residential treatment program. She gradually opened up and addressed the trauma and loss she had experienced. While at Devereux, Jesse earned her high school diploma, describing herself as an “empowered woman” with life goals that included going to college.  

Jesse noted, “Devereux truly helped me. I now know how important it is to make good friends who are a positive influence.” 

Devereux Florida’s CSEC program

Devereux Florida’s Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) program provides comprehensive treatment for children and adolescents, like Jesse, who have experienced emotional, physical or sexual trauma. 

“We teach those in our care how to recognize their inherent worth and value, develop healthy relationships, set appropriate boundaries and manage their emotions more effectively,” Wirsing explained. “In addition, as a prevention method, we explain the dangers of sexual exploitation, so youth can recognize this type of treatment before it happens.”  

Devereux Florida’s CSEC services are offered in both residential and outpatient settings. The center also operates “safe foster homes,” where foster families receive specialized training to better care for youth who are victims of sexual exploitation.   

Seeking state funding to enhance services

A report by the Human Trafficking Institute found that more than half of all active criminal human trafficking cases in the U.S., in 2018, were sex trafficking cases involving children. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the average age of children who first fall victim to sexual exploitation is 12 to 14 years old.  

To help address this significant problem, Devereux Florida is advocating for additional funding from the state to expand CSEC services and provide trauma-focused clinical training to foster parents and caregivers statewide. 

“We remain committed to ensuring help is available to survivors and their caregivers in safe, nurturing and therapeutic environments,” said Devereux Florida Director of External Affairs Lindsey Phillips. “Thanks to support from the Florida Legislature in recent years, our team has been able to provide therapeutic services that have resulted in a 98 percent reduction in trauma symptoms for exploited youth. We look forward to continued support from our lawmakers, to allow us to expand our services in the state and provide youth with the tools they need to overcome their past and build a bright future.”

In addition to Florida, Devereux’s CSEC services, which vary by state, are currently available in Arizona, Georgia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Texas.  

Learn more about Devereux Florida’s CSEC services. Learn more about Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health.


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