JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – City leaders gathered Tuesday morning for a news conference recognizing January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
“Sadly, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, in 2018, the state of Florida ranked third for the highest reported human trafficking rate," Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said.
The Northeast Florida Human Trafficking Coalition -- a group of more than 60 community organizations, service providers, law enforcement and volunteers -- is trying to eradicate human trafficking from the community.
“In the heart of the free world, in communities just like ours, in communities of all sizes all across the country, every day, innocent people are exploited by criminals who control them often keeping them from basic needs like food housing and access to transportation," said FBI Jacksonville Division Assistant Special Agents in Charge Sean Ryan.
Ryan said there are several myths about human trafficking.
“Many people think human trafficking only happens in illegal or underground industries, but the FBI has received reports about this activity in restaurants, cleaning services, construction companies, factories and many other legitimate trades," he said.
Another myth is that human trafficking only affects foreign nationals, but according to the FBI Jacksonville Division, the majority of sex trafficking victims recovered in the United States are U.S. citizens.
And not all victims are women and girls. The FBI estimates as many as half of sex trafficking victims are males, with that number being possibly higher because they are far less likely to be identified.