Jacksonville human trafficking victims increased 50 percent in 2017

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The number of human trafficking survivors rescued in Jacksonville increased by 50 percent in 2017.

According to numbers from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, 66 human trafficking victims were “identified and/or rescued” in 2017. The total compares with 44 in 2016, 42 in 2015 and 51 in 2014.

“The word ‘rescue,’ I don’t like using that word. I don’t feel like we are giving survivors enough credit for their own recovery and their own journey,” said Alyssa Beck, who told Action News Jax she escaped from sex trafficking when she was 15 years old.

Beck now advocates for other survivors.

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams chalks up the 50 percent increase in human trafficking survivors identified in Jacksonville to two big reasons: First, the state attorney’s office added more resources last year to prosecute human traffickers, and second, more education about human trafficking.

On Monday, Florida state legislators brought attention to a bill that would develop public education campaigns about the warning signs of human trafficking.

The bill would also establish a toll-free human trafficking reporting hotline.

Beck said escape is just the beginning.

“I was failed by every system that should have been set up to help me. I was labeled these nasty, dirty names, including child prostitute, runaway, criminal, juvenile delinquent,” Beck said.

That’s why Jacksonville’s Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center is at the forefront of Florida’s new Open Doors Outreach Network.

“One of the things that surprised us was the sheer volume of referrals we received. Within the first month of being operational in the Open Doors program, we had more than 35 referrals,” said Tayloe McDonald of the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center.

McDonald said when a survivor is identified, he or she is immediately paired with a survivor mentor, a regional advocate and a clinician.

The Cowford Chophouse will host its second annual MOO-VE IT 5K and 1-mile fun run to benefit the Delores Bar Weaver Policy Center on March 3.

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