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Hillsborough County officials promote human trafficking prevention signs ordinance

Posted at 6:47 PM, Mar 10, 2020

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. -- Melanie Veldhuizen was 18 years old when she said she started cocktail waitressing in clubs. Soon, she said she was trafficked between strip clubs, traveling across Florida.

"There's no way to really describe it to somebody that doesn't know the lifestyle. It's just a lot more than anyone can really imagine," she said.

She said people who visited these places came from all walks of life.

"Behind the scenes, when you’re in a dance room, you don’t know that somebody’s getting paid extra money to do sexual acts. You don’t know that somebody’s over in the corner watching everybody else around," said Veldhuizen.

So now, she welcomes Hillsborough County's efforts to help.

"I hope it’s effective. I think it could be effective," she said.

They are signs. They provide numbers for anyone who may be trafficked to find help and resources. The county first passed an ordinance in 2016 requiring them in adult entertainment businesses, massage parlors and bath houses.

In 2019, the ordinance was expanded to include more languages on the sign and that establishments also place them in bathrooms and dressing rooms.

"We’re just making sure all of these businesses have it," said Susan Bradford, the manager of the county's regulatory compliance unit.

County officials are visiting hundreds of the businesses to make sure they know about the updated rule. If they aren't already in compliance, the county will check again in a month.

"The Tampa Bay Area is very busy and very growing so we’re just trying to stay up on the businesses being alert when we go in seeing if there’s any signs or symptoms," said Bradford.

Veldhuizen hopes signs eventually become more widespread. She wants people to be aware of the issue not only through the posters, but her story.

"I hope that somebody ends up trying to find help," she said.

Today, she's 29 years old, out of the lifestyle, a graduate of the Restored program and a survivor.