Human Trafficking Program

Parishes offer assistance identifying and supporting victims


Fort Myers and Naples—Human trafficking is considered to be modern-day slavery and the role of social service providers is to identify and assist victims.


The Human Trafficking Program of Catholic Charities partners with the Sherriff’s Departments in both Lee and Collier Counties and Florida Gulf Coast University to tackle this growing but largely hidden social problem. Victims of trafficking are exploited for commercial sex or labor purposes where traffickers use force, fraud or coercion to achieve exploitation.


“Victims are hard to identify. You have to look beneath the surface,” said Alex Olivares, Program Director of the Human Trafficking Program of Catholic Charities. Since the program initiated in July of 2009, about 60 victims of trafficking have been assisted. Victims have come mostly from Central America, but also from Asia, Eastern Europe, the Caribbean, Haiti and Jamaica.


The program is funded by the United States Council of Catholic Bishops and the United States Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crimes. Florida Gulf Coast University provides the needs assessment for the program.


In 2010, Olivares started giving presentations to parishes throughout the Diocese of Venice offering information about understanding human trafficking, and identifying and supporting victims. “This issue is important to Bishop (Frank) Dewane and he gives his full support,” said Olivares. “The parishes have been so supportive and good at recognizing victims and connecting them with Catholic Charities,” he said.


According to Olivares, victims of human trafficking are often kept isolated and their activities are restricted to prevent them from seeking help. They are typically watched, escorted or guarded by traffickers, and are coached to answer questions with a cover story.


Human trafficking victims can be found in commercial sex, domestic situations, sweatshop factories, construction, farming or landscaping, fisheries, hotel or tourist industries, panhandling, janitorial services, and restaurant services.


When victims of human trafficking are identified, Catholic Charities lends immediate help with housing, food, provisions of medical and dental services, benefits applications, supportive counseling, and transportation to appointments.  Catholic Charities also provides comprehensive case management services for victims which includes coordination of mental health counseling and other community services, English and educational classes, and law enforcement agencies and immigration attorneys pertaining to the victim’s legal case and certification.


Olivares often turns to area parishes for donations of food, clothing, baby items and other necessities when victims are first identified. “The parishes are the unifying center of it all. Not only are they recognizing victims, they are also helping victims to achieve a better life,” said Olivares. “I just put a call out and they always respond every time.”


For more information about the Human Trafficking Program of Catholic Charities, please call 239-738-8722.



Identifying Victims of Human Trafficking

  • Is the person accompanied by another who seems controlling?
  • Is the person rarely allowed in public except for work?
  • Can you detect any physical or psychological abuse?
  • Does the person seem submissive or fearful?
  • Does the person have difficulty communicating?
  • Does the person lack identification?
  • Is someone else collecting the person’s pay or holding their money for “safe keeping”?


Understanding Victims of Human Trafficking

  • Many victims do not speak English and do not understand American culture.
  • Some victims do not know what city or country they are in because they are often forced to move.
  • Most victims have a strong sense of distrust because they fear deportation.
  • Many victims do not see themselves as victims and do not realize what is being done to them is wrong.