Human trafficking survivors help train medical professionals to support trafficking victims

It's less than a week out from the biggest day in professional football: Super Bowl 2019.

But that means we're also just days  from one of the one of the biggest opportunities for human traffickers.

While the Super Bowl is happening in Atlanta, some human trafficking survivors are working to make sure the community knows how to support trafficking victims — right here in Jacksonville.

Action News Jax reporter Courtney Cole spoke to survivors who helped train doctors and other medical professionals at the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center.

Survivors said their perspective is the one thing that’s been missing  from the fight against human trafficking.

"My finding a way out is not just rebuilding my life, but reaching out to help others do the same thing,” said Chanel Toleston, a human trafficking survivor.

The 30-year-old Texas native said she was trafficked for 2 1/2 years.

"I was 21. A lot of times, when you're being trafficked, people don't see you as a victim, they see you as a prostitute,” Toleston said.

The mother of two says she's made it her life's mission to change that perception, working as a  "survivor mentor" at the Delores Barr Weaver Center.

“It's not just girls being tied and bound up, it's more than that,” said Alyssa Beck.

On Tuesday, Toleston and other survivors including Alyssa Beck— worked with a room full of doctors and other medical professionals.

They shared sharing their experiences and showed them how to engage with the trauma a survivor may be carrying with them.

“No little girl wakes up and says, 'You know, when I grow up, I'm going to be a prostitute.' It's not a choice, we're led to that life by some sort of desperation and people prey on those desperations,” Beck said.

As an advocacy specialist at the center, Beck is now working to make sure the support is there for girls and women -- who were in her shoes.

Action News Jax reported last week, JSO saved 38 human trafficking victims, and made 36 human-trafficking-related arrests last year.

Even with help from outside agencies both survivors and JSO say the most important thing the public can do to help is challenge their idea of trafficking and inform themselves.

If you think you know someone who might be a victim, call: 800-962-2873

For more information about the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center, click HERE.