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  • Writer's pictureSavannah Parvu

Tampa Bay Times Column: At 12, I was sex-trafficked from a Florida hotel room

The Legislature has the power to stop the horror that I lived through. It should, for the sake of other little girls.

My nightmare began when I was just 12 years old. My innocence, childhood and security were ripped away from me as I was trafficked and sold to multiple men a night out of a Central Florida hotel room.

You might think if only I could reach hotel staff I could have been saved and my story might have turned out differently. But that was not the case. The people who worked at the hotel knew exactly what was going on, and they did nothing to stop it. They did nothing to help me. They did nothing. Oftentimes, they actually assisted my trafficker by escorting men in and out of the hotel room.

One night, I was left alone in the room after being sold to several men. Nobody ever came back to get me the next day. I didn’t have any shoes and had marks and bruising all over my body. As I walked barefoot, crying, scared and alone through the hotel lobby, the hotel staff saw me, but they did nothing to try to help. They asked no questions. They offered no assistance. They did nothing.

As a result of my trafficking, I was forced to have multiple abortions at just 12 years old, one of which was performed by my trafficker. Due to the trauma and damage done to my body through these forced abortions, I will never be able to naturally have children of my own. Not only was my childhood taken from me because of trafficking, my future was, too. As a woman of faith, I have survived my horrific nightmare and dedicated my life to helping victims of this terrible evil, but the pain and trauma never truly go away. The psychological and physical scars will stay with me for the rest of my life.

I’ve told my story a number of times publicly and will continue to do so until human trafficking is eradicated from our society. To some, they are just stories. But for me, this was the reality that I lived, day in and day out, for years.

While other 12-year-olds were attending soccer practice, going to dance recitals and having sleepovers at friend’s houses, I was being sold and raped nightly in the same hotel to a rotating door of men — and no one did anything to help me.

Currently, there is a piece of legislation — HB 7045 — going through the Florida Legislature that could provide help and justice to countless victims and survivors like me by holding businesses complicit in human trafficking accountable.

Devastatingly, hotels were recently taken out of that legislation. Hearing that news was a gut punch that left me mystified.

Hotels are the number one location for reported cases of human trafficking. I learned first-hand that the business of selling people is incredibly lucrative — not just for traffickers but for those aiding and profiting from the sales.

It was enough to make a hotel full of staff turn a blind eye to a scared, traumatized and isolated little girl in need of help. It is also a low-risk, high-reward game for those complicit in the crime like those at the hotel I was sold at years ago. In fact, that same hotel I was trafficked out of when I was 12 is still profiting from sale of human beings today.

No one was there to help me, but members of the Florida Legislature have the opportunity to help those who are still in the middle of living this nightmare by putting hotels back into the language of this bill. They can do something.

For those with the power to help — to make a real change — I ask you to not just hear my story as another heartbreaking tragedy, but to sit and think about the nightmare that many are still living.

What are we saying to them? To the victims still in that reality? That we’re more concerned with the threat of a lawsuit than saving lives?

We can and we must be better than that. Members of the Legislature: You can be the hope that I never had. You can be the catalyst that abolishes human trafficking from our communities. You can do something. I would like to thank Reps. Toby Overdorf, R-Palm City, and Taylor Yarkosky, R-Montverde, for fighting alongside me, and the leadership of the Florida House and Senate for considering this legislation. I pray we will see a bill passed this year that stops this evil enterprise at its main source — hotels.

Savannah Parvu has become an important voice on human trafficking at the capitol in Tallahassee. In 2019, she was appointed by Attorney General Ashley Moody to the board of directors for the Florida Alliance to End Human Trafficking.

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