TAMPA (WFLA) – 8 On Your Side’s “Storefronts for Sex” investigation triggered a crackdown on illicit health spas in Tampa. Now, we are investigating a new effort to combat human trafficking in the Tampa Bay area.
Compliance teams are doing a sweep of spas, parlors and adult businesses across Hillsborough County. They are checking the human trafficking signage at these establishments all week long.
As of Tuesday morning, crews had checked the signs at more than 100 locations.
“We are going to hit a thousand square miles in Hillsborough County,” said Susan Bradford, a manager with Hillsborough County’s Regulatory Compliance unit.
Investigators will have examples of the size of the signs, where they need to be displayed, and the languages they need to be in, according to a county news release.
The sign ordinance was modified in September of 2019.
The new red and white signs, which state the National Human Trafficking Resource Center phone number 1-888-373-7888, must be clearly visible to customers and workers.
“Our investigators are trained in human trafficking so if they see something unusual, we have other agencies that we can pass information onto,” said Bradford.
This new push comes as Tampa gets ready for WrestleMania next month.
“Do you think these signs can actually save girls and other victims?” asked investigative reporter Mahsa Saeidi.
“I think they can, that’s why we’re adding languages to them because we do have a lot of ethnic groups in Hillsborough County,” said Bradford.
Bradford estimates her crews will check the signs in about 400 businesses.
“They have been very positive when we’ve gone in,” she said.
Bradford says a lack of cooperation can be a red flag. Her crews do tip off law enforcement to businesses suspected of trafficking.
That’s helpful, but the question is: Do signs make a difference?
A spokeswoman for the National Human Trafficking Hotline says they don’t ask where the caller initially saw the number.
But, 8 On Your Side dug up data that shows, along with an increase in human trafficking signs, there was also an increase in calls from victims and survivors.
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, the organization received 370 calls from victims and survivors in 2016. Two years later, 591 victims and survivors had called the hotline for help.
“If we rescue one person than this whole thing is worth it,” said Bradford.
A business that fails to have the proper signs will face a $265 fine.