Young ad pros, Junior League of Tampa Combat Child Sex Slavery

TAMPA — Residents might start seeing a few odd sights downtown. Purple blindfolds around landmarks like the José Marti statue in Ybor. A giant circle with an X through the middle lit up on the side of a city building. Removable graffiti covering walls downtown.

These guerilla-style advertising tactics are part of the recently launched Ad 2 Tampa Bay pro-bono campaign for the Junior League of Tampa titled “Abolish.” The league has dedicated the past year to raising awareness about human trafficking in Tampa Bay, a $31 billion industry worldwide.

In September, Ad 2 Tampa Bay — a nonprofit organization of advertising professionals 32 and younger — named the Junior League the recipient of its pro-bono public service campaign for 2013-14. Together, on behalf of the Community Campaign Against Human Trafficking Tampa Bay, they launched a public awareness campaign to combat child sex slavery.

“The problem is people don’t know this is actually happening,” said Mary Ellen Collins, public affairs chairwoman of the Junior League. “Everyone was sharing information and talking about what they were doing, but there was no groundswell.”

The problem has lived in cities throughout the United States for decades, but only recently has awareness risen enough to permeate multiple layers of the community, including law enforcement, prosecutors, community advocates and politicians.

As service providers and law enforcement band together to address the issue, the Ad 2 campaign hopes to bring a united front to the fight. By using one color, one slogan and one website, the group hopes to stop the fragmentation of information and direct the community to one common message.

“We wanted to do something impactful but that wasn’t something that’s been done in the past,” Ad 2 Tampa Bay president Taryn Cashmere said. “We didn’t want the typical photos of the young girls behind bars and in chains that’s been done across the U.S. already.”

Just as people associate pink with breast cancer awareness, the ad campaign is hoping to take ownership of the color purple. The word “abolish” connotes slavery, an easier term for people to understand than human trafficking. And the style of the art harkens to street graffiti and a harsher image.

“Originally we were charged with (raising awareness of) child sex trafficking, and we ran into the problem that people don’t really know what trafficking is,” said Kelsey Farnell, co-creative director of the public service team for Ad 2 Tampa Bay. “We went for a really urban, raw, grungy feel for the campaign just to try to reach the streets and the younger population.”

The campaign will also employ traditional forms of advertising — billboards, public service announcements and print ads. Those will focus on statistics particular to child sex trafficking in Tampa, Collins said, and will be easily adaptable for other cities across the state should the campaign take off.

The campaign will encourage victims and those who suspect a crime is being committed to text “BEFREE” for help. Texts go directly to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s 24-hour hotline, a program of the Polaris Project, which combats forced sex acts and labor.

The campaign will roll out through this month and intensify during January, national Human Trafficking Awareness Month. The Junior League and its partners will host events Jan. 10-18, including a kickoff rally and a 5K run.

“It’s not just a campaign, it’s a grass roots effort,” Collins said. “It’s a living, breathing thing that won’t end when the campaign ends.”

Caitlin Johnston can be reached at

To participate or ask for help

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. The Junior League of Tampa and its partners will host events Jan. 10-18.

Victims and those who suspect a crime is being committed should text “BEFREE” for help. Texts go directly to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s 24-hour hotline.