JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Sixty-six people in Jacksonville were rescued from human trafficking in 2017, authorities said.
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, along with several other agencies, announced efforts to fight the crime during a news conference Tuesday afternoon recognizing January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
Human trafficking is the world’s second-largest criminal enterprise after narcotics, generating $150 billion each year.
Operation Cross Country, which was started by the FBI in 2003, fights slavery and human trafficking. Since 2003, the operation has located over 6,100 children nationwide and returned them to their families.
More than 8,000 human trafficking cases were reported nationwide in 2017. Florida is ranked third nationally in the number of reported calls.
Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said education and coming forward are how people can help put an end to human trafficking.
"If anyone sees something suspicious and out of place, it's going to be someone who lives in the area or frequents the area, and that’s who we would encourage to get engaged and call no matter how small or insignificant you may think it may be," Williams said. "It may be the last piece to the puzzle we need to put one of these cases together and save some victims of human trafficking."
One of several successful cases involved the arrest of Patrick Trottie in May. According to police, he exploited women through prostitution, placing their photos online to have clients meet them in hotel rooms and then taking the money. Police said he coerced them through physical violence and exploiting their addiction to drugs by giving them heroin and cocaine.
State Attorney Melissa Nelson said her office will continue to work with the Sheriff’s Office investigating and prosecuting human trafficking cases.
The founder of Rethreaded, a local organization that supports survivors of human trafficking, told News4Jax that she's so proud of the work by Northeast Florida leaders and law enforcement and that, “Rethreaded is proud to serve alongside such a committed group of professionals and (we) are looking forward to seeing continued progress.”
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