JACKSONVILLE, Fla. —
January is national slavery and human trafficking prevention month, and the FBI in Jacksonville along with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is working to end the crime.
But because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns that come with it, JSO says people are out less, which means police are receiving less tips.
“Thousands of innocent victims right here in the free world are being exploited, bought, sold by criminals,” FBI Jacksonville Special Agent Mark Hoffman said. “[victims are] forced to work for little or no pay as prostitutes, or other grueling jobs in factories, on farms, or even restaurants.”
Hoffman says many of these crimes are going unnoticed.
“There is not a corner in Jacksonville that human trafficking doesn’t happen,” Sandra Shin, founder of Hope 4 Freedom said. “We need to be more aware. If a child you know is screaming for help, don’t ignore it. Help that child.”
Shin knows this firsthand. She says she was trafficked in Jamaica at the age of 11, when her mother trafficked her for money to pay rent.
“I honestly did not know what to think. The only thing I could say at the time is my mom didn’t want me,” Shin said.
Her experience was so traumatic, it colored her life forever.
“It’s disgusting to know your children cannot be free,” she added.
Shin turned her pain into purpose, and started “Hope 4 Freedom” to help other survivors. But it goes beyond that, she says. She wants to prevent trafficking from happening at all.
“If you prevent it, then you don’t have to rescue and restore,” she said.
While JSO and the FBI are doing all they can, the pandemic has made it harder.
“With people spending less time in public now, you’re going to get less of those tips,” Sheriff Mike Williams explained.
JSO is now turning to the community for help. Williams is asking that if you see something, say something. Because for people like Shin, it could be a matter of life or death.
“My goal one day is to wake up in a world where there is no human trafficking,” Shin said.
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