Via PENSACOLA, Fla. (WEAR): Just this year, more than 10,000 cases across the country have been reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Florida comes in third for the number of those cases.
Attorney Mike Papantonio says he’s been fighting this fight for years. Now, he’s behind a new major lawsuit and working on a new book he hopes will lead to change.
*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.
Bob Solarski: Some young children in the US are being turned into modern day slaves, trafficked across the country, sex, forced labor and other brutal conditions.
April Baker: As Channel Three’s Chorus Nylander investigates, a prominent local attorney is representing victims and vowing to go after those he believes are letting it happen.
Chorus Nylander: In darkness, someone somewhere likely not far from where you are is being trafficked like a piece of property.
Mike Papantonio: They’re working as human slaves that are, you know, that are, that are trafficked all over the country.
Chorus Nylander: Attorney Mike Papantonio says he knows just how evil those behind this modern day slavery can be. He’s represented victims and has learned the tricks used to carry it all out.
Mike Papantonio: These are the girl next door that maybe ran away or they’ve developed drug problems and the next thing you know, they’re involved in human trafficking. They’re loaded up in the back of semis and they’re, they’re carted down the interstate.
Chorus Nylander: Cursed by geography, he says Pensacola is on the front lines of this crisis.
Mike Papantonio: We’re on that I-10 corridor and it connects, you know, all the way from West to East. Then the trafficking moves up the Eastern seaboard.
Chorus Nylander: He’s putting pen to paper hoping to influence a change, writing a new book, law and slavery focused on what he believes can be done to hurt human traffickers.
Mike Papantonio: The way I’ve written this book is to make it a fiction but entertain and at the same time kind of force you to look at it.
Chorus Nylander: He says traffickers thrive off what he calls a broken H-2B visa system, which allows foreign workers into the country. Papantonio is actively suing several businesses he blames for turning a blind eye, from hotels and airlines to social media websites.
Mike Papantonio: The federal government has known that this H-2B system has been a horrendous problem for a long time and they failed to do anything about it. My goal is to have industry come up with standards to where they have best practices.
Chorus Nylander: New to the Levin Papantonio team is Carissa Phelps, an attorney. Her road to get there was a long one. She escaped from human trafficking as a child.
Carissa Phelps: It was once I started sharing my story, people began to disclose to me what they had been through.
Chorus Nylander: Her story told and an award winning 2008 documentary titled Carissa. As a runaway child in California, she was exploited into the sex trade. Her escape came with an arrest.
Carissa Phelps: I was arrested and I was treated as a criminal. I had handcuffs put on me. There was no report written up about where I was picked up, who I was picked up with.
Chorus Nylander: That pushed her to become an advocate, than a lawyer. Now, joining Mike Papantonio, hoping lawsuits will help at least some victims.
Carissa Phelps: There are girls out there right now who are dying, who we’re not seeing, boys as well, and I want them to be seen. I want them to be heard.