- Officials confirm human trafficking cases are on the rise, and that it's happening in Leon County
- Survive and Thrive Advocacy Center says demand for their services has increased by 200-300 percent.
- Watch the video to hear from a survivor of human trafficking about his experience escaping this exploitation
Sheriff Walt McNeil of the Leon County Sheriff’s Office said “victims of human trafficking occur in our community but quite honestly they often go unnoticed”. Many of them are happening right here on North Monroe Street.
Survive and Thrive Advocacy Center, a service provider for human trafficking survivors, has helped over 200 survivors since their inception 8 years ago.
That includes people like Sameer Jain.
Jain knows firsthand the hardship of human trafficking being a victim of labor trafficking for a year and a half.
Michael Malsch with the FBI said the number of open cases on human trafficking has ballooned from about 670 in 2021, to over 1600 cases in 2023.
“It can happen to anyone, irrespective of gender, irrespective of color, irrespective of race, and irrespective of age. It can happen to everyone,” said Jain.
Locally, Robin Hassler Thompson, Executive Director of STAC, said recently demand has surged.
"It’s increased, I would say, at least almost two hundred to three hundred percent," said Hassler Thomspon.
She said these cases consist of labor and sex trafficking.
"About half of our case load has always been labor trafficking, and that often surprises people," said Hassler Thompson. "Because we don’t see those cases in the news, we don’t see the big arrests."
That’s exactly what happened to Sameer Jain, who was groomed from India and labor trafficked in Kansas. He was forced to work 16-18 hour days, without days off and without pay. But he was too scared to say anything.
"The moment that you’re going to raise your voice, the first thing would happen is, revoke off your visa, that’s what he did," said Jain. "And then you become a kind of stateless person. You cannot work, you cannot go to any hospital if you need medical, you cannot drop your kid to the school, you cannot do anything."
Jain said he holds onto a lot of regret.
"I blame myself," said Jain.
He’s speaking out to help other victims.
Although Jain's experience was in Kansas, Hassler Thompson has one clear message.
"Right here in Leon County, and in our surrounding areas, we have both sex and labor trafficking, it is here," said Hassler Thompson.
That comment is exactly what’s sparking our series that will look into human trafficking in Leon County. Survive and Thrive tells me there are many misconceptions about human trafficking. That will be the topic of the next development in this series. If you have comments or questions, I would love to hear from you. Email me at 850-509-3271.