‘It’s hidden in plain sight’: Human trafficking survivor shares story of hope

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — At 11-years-old Sandra Shin was trafficked by her own mother in Jamaica to help pay for the family’s rent. It was a horror she lived for three years.

“I felt as if it was my fault. I felt ashamed. I felt not wanted,” Shin told Action News Jax’s Robert Grant.

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One day in particular sticks out to Shin. It was the day she was approached by her stepfather.

“When I squealed the word R-A-P-E — my mom hit me across my face and told me that I brought scandal to her.” That was the motivation Shin needed to run away at 13-years-old.

Unfortunately, Shin’s story is not unique. She said 32% of victims are sold by their own family, and some as young as 4-years-old. It’s a stark reality heightened by the pandemic.

Shin said many families will sell their children off to help pay for rent especially during financial hardships. Many kids learning online gives predators easier access. She said that’s why it is important to have access to your kid’s online accounts.

“It is sad. You can’t have your kids going out anymore and feel free to just walk and play — you have to be very careful,” she said.

There are three key signs you should watch out for. They include:

  • Child suddenly has expensive clothes or accessories
  • Child distances themselves from friends, hangs out instead with an older crowd
  • Asks their friends to cover up for them

“It’s hidden in plain sight,” she said adding that human trafficking doesn’t discriminate and is in every corner of Jacksonville. It’s also not just kids.

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Duval County is rated the 5th highest county in Florida for trafficking cases and Florida is third in the country.

Shin eventually escaped to the States where she now lives in Jacksonville and made it her mission to end human trafficking. She is now working to open a safe house for victims with her organization ‘Hope 4 Freedom’.

“At 11 years old I lost my innocence. I’m now 63 and I will never get that innocence. That is what I’m fighting against.”

Shin hasn’t lost hope. Even after being trafficked by her mother, she said she’s forgiven her. It’s a symbol Shin said that there’s light even in the darkest places.

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