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.
Lastly, victims aren’t only targeted by strangers. According to the FBI, traffickers have been known to target their own family members.
In 2019, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, there were 19 victims identified and/or rescued, four of whom were juveniles. There were a total of 34 human trafficking-related arrests and three federal indictments, the Sheriff’s Office said.
“It takes more than government to solve this problem. We all remember the slogan, ‘If you see something, say something,’" Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said. "Crimes like this don’t always happen in broad daylight.”
To help reduce these cases, the Northeast Florida Human Trafficking Coalition is asking members of the community to stay vigilant.
“Education is key so that you, your family or friends don’t fall victim to human trafficking," the sheriff said.
If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, you can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text “HELP” or “INFO” to 233733. The confidential hotline is open 24/7.
#JSO Sheriff Williams joins Private, City, State and Federal partners in the fight against Human Trafficking in Northeast Florida and recognizing January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. See Something, Say Something - share with authorities. pic.twitter.com/h4WY05pwPk— Jax Sheriff's Office (@JSOPIO) January 21, 2020