JACKSONVILLE, Fla — January marks Human Trafficking Awareness Month and Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office wants to empower the community to spot, and potentially help rescue victims, especially because they can be hidden in plain sight.
“These are hidden crimes, so well-veiled that you may have seen indicators of it, and simply not have known,” said Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters.
It’s a yearly reminder for everyone in Jacksonville, on behalf of JSO, the FBI, and the State Attorney’s Office, that human trafficking can be happening right in front of you.
“Just last year, we rescued 10 human trafficking victims,” Waters stated.
Human trafficking victims are forced into labor or sexual exploitation, and State Attorney Melissa Nelson says they are commonly preyed upon due to their vulnerability. In some cases, they are struggling with addiction.
Currently, the FBI says it has 1,600 open human trafficking cases around the country.
Last May, we heard from human trafficking survivor Nicole McCall.
She told us when she was 14, strangers kidnapped her, and held her captive in a Westside Jacksonville neighborhood for weeks.
“We didn’t know that this is where we would end up,” she said.
McCall and her three friends were fed alcohol, drugged and raped by multiple men.
“It was very terrifying every single day not knowing what this man is about to do with us,” she recalled.
To spot and help a victim, Waters pointed out some indicators.
“The victim’s mannerisms. If the victim has had a sudden change in behavior,” he described, “and if the victim defers to another (person) to answer for them.”
The next step officials want you to follow is to call it in.
“We would prefer to investigate a situation and unfound it, rather than have these crimes underreported,” Waters noted.
McCall, who managed to escape and has become an advocate to other victims, also wants to stress that victims aren’t confined to a certain look or age.
“It can literally happen to anyone. Any age, any race, anywhere,” she emphasized.
If you spot any signs of human trafficking, you can report it to local law enforcement like JSO (by calling its non-emergency line at 904-630-0500), or call the National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888/ SMS: 233733 (Text “HELP” or “INFO”)
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