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Pinellas legal-aid program receives $600K grant to fight human trafficking

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A Florida group that helps human trafficking victims will receive a $600,000 U.S. Department of Justice grant to continue its work, Democratic US Rep. Kathy Castor announced Friday.

“This grant will provide more tools to Gulfcoast Legal Services and local law enforcement to aid victims of human trafficking,” Castor said. “Gulfcoast now will be able to serve more than double the number of clients than previous years and will spur on the important work of the Tampa Bay Area Task Force on Human Trafficking.”

Gulfcoast Legal Services, part of the Clearwater/Tampa Bay Area Task Force on Human Trafficking, was one of 10 grantees nationwide that received part of $5.6 million in Justice Department grants.

Gulfcoast’s director, John Dubrule, said without the grant money Gulfcoast would not be able to maintain or expand its staff. Now, the group expects to expand services over the next three years.

Part of Gulfcoast’s services include helping trafficking victims navigate the legal system. Many victims end up facing criminal charges after being forced into prostitution, which can make recovery even harder for victims.

“Human trafficking cases aren’t resolved with an arrest,” said Major David Dalton of Clearwater Police and the Tampa Bay Area Task Force on Human Trafficking. “Identifying the victim is another starting point and could help us identify others.”

In addition to its work with trafficking victims, Gulfcoast also helps domestic violence victims, homeowners facing foreclosure, veterans, immigrants and seniors with health care rights issues.

“We have a community responsibility to help our neighbors who have been victimized and experienced the unimaginable,” Castor said. “While many of my Republican colleagues have inflicted significant reductions in legal aid over the past few years, I oppose those who say ‘You can’t get help and pursue a path toward survival.’”

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for SaintPetersBlog and While at the University of Florida, Wilson was an editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and after graduation, he moved to Los Angeles to cover business deals for The Hollywood Reporter. Before joining Extensive Enterprises, Wilson covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools.

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