JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Human trafficking is becoming a bigger worry as predators are now disguising their efforts online and targeting kids in new ways.
Human trafficking is defined as modern day slavery and involves the use of force, fraud or coercion.
Jacksonville native Nicole McCall is a part of the fight to tackle the problem.
The mother of three was kidnapped and sold into the sex trade when she was 14 years old. McCall was walking home on the Southside, one night, with her friends Jessica and Tatiana. Some guys caught their attention.
“It wasn’t a scary white van,” McCall said. “These were three, young, black males that found us attractive and we thought they were attractive. We didn’t know that this is where we would end up.”
McCall and her two friends were taken to a motel on the Westside of Jacksonville off of Lane Avenue in 2002.
“The men took us into a room and stripped us of our clothing, drugged us and raped us,” McCall said. “We were afraid to just run out of the room. We didn’t feel like we had a choice at that point to go home.”
She re-visited the location with Action News Jax’s Meghan Moriarty, and recalls the horror from her month-long capture.
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“I remember certain things vaguely,” McCall said. “I just remember being shoved pills in our mouth. I remember him giving us alcohol. I remember the taste. I just remember certain things. I remember certain smells. I remember him only bringing us out whenever it was night time.”
This abuse spanned over a month.
“What was that feeling like getting up every day, but not knowing how -- or if you’d even survive the next 24 hours?” Moriarty asked McCall.
“It was very terrifying every single day not knowing what this man is about to do with us, who he is selling us to,” McCall said. “I remember not having on clothes the entire time, unless it was time for him to transport us to a different place.”
McCall said she was drugged, fed alcohol, and raped by multiple men.
“We felt like just a piece of property,” McCall said. “Like I don’t feel like a human anymore. I don’t feel like I owned my body anymore.”
She was transported to an apartment complex on the Westside and later an abandoned home. She did try to escape at one point … with her one of her trafficker’s cell phones.
“I took that opportunity to just run out the door,” McCall said. She immediately dialed her mother. “He seen me and I kept the phone in my hand, but I put it down so my mom was still on the phone. She was able to hear all the commotion of him grabbing me by my hair and dragging me right back up those stairs.”
McCall didn’t get to talk to her mom or even tell her where she was. For the three young girls, it felt like this was there new norm.
“He threatened us, and said that if we try to leave he would kill us,” McCall said.
But, one day, one of the men in charge of guarding the three girls had some sort of change of heart.
“One of the men who was supposed to be like our watchdog, he realized how young we were,” she said. “He just threw our clothes down on the ground. He opened up the door and was like this is your chance to get out of here if you want to. Leave now.”
McCall and her two friends ran. They were able to find their way to her friend Jessica’s house.
“[We] remembered his alias name that they kept saying, and so they were able to pull up some different mug shots,” McCall said, referring to her interview with police. “We were able to identify him.”
Their abuser, a 26-year-old man, was arrested and charged with lewd and lascivious battery. He ended up serving approximately four years. He is now deceased.
McCall said she was made to feel like a runaway by police.
“For many, many years after that happened, we were still feeling like it was our fault, like we chose to get in the car with them,” McCall said. “After a while, realizing, you know, even though we chose to get in the car with these guys, we do not deserve what happened to us.”
Now, at 34 years old, the mother of three said she feels she has a handle on her trauma.
“I wear that title proudly-- that I am a survivor,” McCall said. “It took me many many years to know that I was a survivor, because I first had to see myself as a victim.”
McCall is now a published author, advocate for trafficking victims, and she works with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO), training recruits to know the warning signs of trafficking.
“I train the new recruits for Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, and I absolutely love it,” McCall said. “I feel like I’m helping to change their perspective.”
What she wants people to take away from this story: anyone can be a victim.
“People think because they’re in a certain class it won’t happen to them,” McCall said. “I am telling you, it can literally happen to anyone, any age, any race … anywhere.”
She wants parents to educate themselves and their kids.
“I want parents to know that it’s continuously important to have an open conversation with your children about just safety,” McCall said. “Online safety, what human trafficking is, sex trafficking is.”
It’s important to recognize key indicators of human trafficking. You can help save a life by doing this.
Some of those signs are:
- Lying about age, fake ID
- Frequently missing school/falling asleep in school
- Hotel room keys
- Restricted communication, no eye contact with people
- Older/dominating boyfriend
- Sudden dramatic change in behavior
- Doesn’t know what day of the week it is
There are also a few smart phone apps to keep on you or your child’s phone to keep safe, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. These include:
- Circle of Six: This app lets you add up to 6 people from your contacts to join your Circle. With one click, you can send the following commands
- The pin icon sends a text and your GPS location to your Circle that says: “Come and get me. I need help getting home safely.”
- The phone icon sends a text to your Circle that says: “Call and pretend you need me. I need an interruption.”
- The chat icon sends a text to your Circle that says: “I need to talk.” Your friends can then immediately respond to your situation.
- BSafe: This has six features to help you stay safe.
- The Alarm feature sets off a siren. The app starts recording video and voice as well as sending your GPS location to your chosen friends.
- The Follow Me feature lets friends follow your movements on the mobile map. Once you have arrived home safely, your friends will be notified.
- The Fake Call feature will make your phone call you.
- The Recording feature automatically starts recording video and audio and the recording is sent your primary person’s mobile phone.
- The I Am Here feature shares your location with your friends.
- The Timer feature notifies your friends if you have not checked in within a certain time.
- SafeTrek: *this requires a monthly or yearly fee
- To use it you open the app and hold your thumb on the “safe” button. If you determine you are safe, release the button and enter your 4 digit pin. If you are in danger, release the button and do not enter your pin. Local police will be notified of your location.
There’s more information on signs and resources on McCall’s website, as well as ways to get involved with helping end trafficking. You can also find information on the National Human Trafficking Hotline website.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline number is 1-888-373-7888.
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