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TALLAHASSEE, FL. (WTXL) - January is Human Trafficking awareness month. In Florida the number of suspected Human Trafficking reports has doubled since 2010.
It's not only growing problem in U.S, it's a growing problem in Florida. Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world, with nearly 27 million victims reported. It's estimated that it generates close to $31 billion each year, ranging from sex exploitation of minors to labor exploitation of illegal immigrants. The faces of human trafficking many times can go unnoticed, they can be of any sex, race or age.
It's a struggle Homeland Security Investigations Agent Ralph Bradley knows all to well, "Trafficking is not something easily revealed. We hear a lot of times it's something found in plain sight. It's one of those crimes that can go unaccounted for until we have an opportunity to identify a crime has taken place."
The State of Florida is combating human trafficking through stiffer penalties and education, giving law enforcement the tools they need to better identify the traffickers as well as the victims.U.S. Attorney Pamela Marsh has set up coalitions throughout northern Florida geared at bringing resources and agencies together.
Interstate 10 is a major corridor when it comes to Human Trafficking. The Interstate covers a lot of ground, giving traffickers the opportunity to set up shop quickly and then be on to the next town before anyone knows.
In 2014, Florida ranked third behind California and Texas for the most calls made to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center with 1,722. About 31% of the victims nationwide were children. In north Florida to date, nearly 47 Innocence Lost Task Forces and groups have worked to rescue more than 2,100 children.
According to Bradley, "Trafficking victims have been identified in the labor industry, hotel industry, and tourism industry. We hear of victims encountered in the nail salon business and in massage parlors, restaurants and in the fields."
This past November, Tallahassee Police arrested Moriah Poole and Tyron Watson for taking a Hillsborough County teen from city to city for the use of pimping her out. Authorities found the duo by answering and ad for the teen online. They then were able to set up a meeting with the couple and make an arrest. This is just one example of the crimes happening every day. It is estimated that about 80% of the victims of human trafficking are female and up to half are minors. Many of the victims are under 25 years old, with the majority in their mid to late teens, mostly used for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. Many times the victims are just looking for a better life and get trapped in an under world that seems to only be getting bigger.
FSU Dir. Center for the Advancement of Human Rights Terry Coonan says, "There have been a number of agricultural cases that we have worked. These are hosts to young women typically from Latin America brought in illegally paying off a smuggling debt but is being forced to do so through prostitution. We have had cases in Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Miami, Tampa and Orlando. It has reached all over the state."
Bradley says, "The Victims do not ask to be victims. They come here for work, they come here for opportunity, maybe recruited for something genuine but once they arrive turn them into victims."
The next step once a victim is identified is getting that victim the help they need to start to heal from such a traumatic and horrifying situation.
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