JSO, Mayor, City leaders working to make Jacksonville a human-trafficking free zone

Action News Jax at 5:30 p.m.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Nineteen human trafficking victims were rescued in Jacksonville in 2019.

Four of those victims were kids.

Action News Jax reporter Courtney Cole learned about a new tool that the public will be able to access in the future that will help Jacksonville become a human-trafficking free zone.

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"Education is key so that you, your family or your friends do not fall victim to human trafficking,” Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said.

Sheriff Mike Williams says human trafficking often happens in plain sight.

With the help of local and federal partners, in 2019, there were:

  • 19 local victims rescued, including four kids
  • 34 local human trafficking-related arrests
  • 3 federal indictments

The number of human trafficking victims saved in 2018 was 38, while there were 36 human-trafficking-related arrests.

Since the numbers were down, comparatively, Cole reached out to JSO to learn why. She’s still waiting to hear back.

Sheriff Williams says the key to fighting against the horrible crime, is making sure we all know how to spot that type of crime and how to report it.

Here are the signs Sheriff Williams says should raise a red flag:

  • Does the person appear disconnected from family/friends/church?
  • Is the person fearful, timid or submissive?
  • Does the person have bruises in various stages of healing?
  • Is the person often in the company of someone to whom he or she defers, or someone who seems to be involved in the situation?
  • If it’s a child, has he or she stopped attending school?

Melissa Nelson, the state attorney for Florida’s Fourth Judicial Circuit, says we not only need to be looking for these signs in women, but men as well.

“We’re starting to see more and more female traffickers. Five female defendants in this area have been charged with human-trafficking-related offenses.”

Nelson also said traffickers are using drugs to control their victims, instead of force.

"And we know at the State Attorney’s Office of at least six women who’ve died of opioid deaths since early 2016 that were either human-trafficking victims or had some significant connection to ongoing investigations,” said Nelson.

In 2021 the city of Jacksonville will partner with the state to use a “data dashboard.”

“We’ll know who have access to who has violated human-trafficking laws, who’s been prosecuted, if they’re in jail, out of jail, on the streets,” said Councilman Tommy Hazouri, of Group 3, At-Large.

The public will also have access to the database.

Hazouri believes it will help with transparency and trust in the community.