CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – In 2022 there were 2,300 child exploitation and human trafficking cases across Northeast Florida. Now, law enforcement officials from five local counties, FDLE, the Department of Homeland Security and the Tim Tebow Foundation are partnering together to put a stop to it.
The goal is for the individuals in the partnership, called the INTERCEPT Task Force, to join forces and fight the human trafficking epidemic together.
This task force is comprised of seven Northeast Florida law enforcement agencies at the local, state, and federal levels who are all dedicating full-time personnel to take a regional approach in attacking child sexual exploitation and human trafficking.
“They will be working diligently to identify, locate and recover victims; and to provide them with the services and assistance they need. This partnership will, in essence, erase jurisdictional boundaries and barriers to investigating and prosecuting those who manipulate and victimize our young and vulnerable,” the Clay County Sheriff’s Office said. “We have the backing of our prosecutorial partners at the state and federal levels to ensure that these offenders are brought to justice.”
The partnership has been up and running for six months now and cases are already being investigated.
Northeast Florida INTERCEPT is a unique public-private partnership with Operation Lightshine, a non-profit organization dedicated to combating child sexual exploitation and human trafficking, and the Tim Tebow Foundation.
The law enforcement agencies partnering in the task force include the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, Nassau County Sheriff’s Office, Putnam County Sheriff’s Office, St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Homeland Security Investigations.
The seven agencies will each be dedicating full-time investigators and resources every day to investigate child sexual exploitation and human trafficking cases within the Northeast Florida region.
The founder of Operation Lightshine, Matthew Murphy, was also at Thursday’s event. He launched the group after his sister was murdered by a drug trafficker.
Now he wants to make sure no other family has to go through what he and his family went through.
“The second we hand our child an iPad or a phone they’re at risk,” he said. “If we don’t (save our children) and do it in a big way now we’re going to lose our children.”
According to Operation Lightshine:
- In the US alone, an estimated less than 1% of child sexual exploitation cases are currently being investigated
- The Cyber Tipline from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received over 29.3 million tips in 2021
- Over 99% of those were regarding incidents of suspected Child Sexual Abuse Material
- 3.8 million adults are trafficked for forced sexual exploitation
The public and private partnership with a law enforcement task force is a first for the Northeast Florida region and is only the second of its kind in the nation sponsored by Operation Lightshine.
The Clay County Sheriff’s Office said the Tim Tebow Foundation and Operation Lightshine will be assisting the task force by providing financial, technical and other resources.
Tim Tebow was also there representing his foundation, which works to fight human trafficking. among its other goals.
He said he and his wife spoke to a child recently who had been exploited for six years
“She writes, ‘My dark mask was worn at night. At school I would put my pretend smile mask over my dark soul, trying to survive another day until I lost myself. I let darkness fill me, and i wanted to die,’” he said.
The officials at the event said they are putting out a call to action to all Northeast Florida residents. Specifically, they ask you to report any information about human trafficking, child sexual abuse, or the trafficking in child sexual abuse material immediately to your local sheriff’s office or federal law enforcement at 1-866-347-2423.
You can also remain anonymous by reporting the information to First Coast Crime Stoppers at 1-866-845-TIPS or report it to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children through their tip line at 1-800-843-5678 or report it to them online at report.cybertip.org.