It was a packed house Thursday night at the historic Tampa Theatre. And it wasn't for live music or a classic film. Attendees were there to see "Too Close To Home," a documentary produced by WEDU, Tampa Bay's public television station, about one of the darkest and most heinous crimes – human trafficking.
"The production of 'Too Close To Home,' continues a long tradition of WEDU programs that address important issues facing our community. These documentaries help educate, inform and enrich lives," said Susan Howarth, WEDU president and CEO. "We are proud to stand alongside law enforcement and community organizations in an effort to promote awareness."
The 30-minute documentary shed light on the fact that human trafficking takes place in communities across the nation, even Tampa Bay, which is ordinarily known as a tourist destination with world-renowned beaches. Special Agent Bill Williger represented U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). He was featured alongside a Florida legislator, local law enforcement partners, representatives from non-governmental organizations and survivors. Each documentary participant had one goal – bring awareness to human trafficking.
"I take human trafficking very seriously because it's a crime against people, not a victimless crime," said Williger. "Victims are forced to work against their will. Some are forced into a life of prostitution, while others are forced to work in grueling, inhumane conditions. Either way, these victims live a life of modern day slavery I wouldn't wish upon anyone."
And that's why Williger is so passionate about what he does. He not only puts traffickers behind bars, he also participates in outreach events to educate audiences from Junior League members to local strip club employees about human trafficking.
"The more people know about this crime, the better chance we have of putting an end to it," said Williger. "Victims are often hidden in plain sight, their movements and speech restricted, which makes it difficult for law enforcement to detect."
Williger and other advocates urge the public to report any suspicious activity to law enforcement. Your tip may save a life. The public can report suspected human trafficking to the HSI Tip Line at 1-866-DHS-2ICE or ICE.gov/tips.
"Too Close To Home" debuts on WEDU, Tampa Bay's public television station, Sept. 26 at 9 p.m.