Dozens of women and children in Jacksonville were rescued from the horrors of human trafficking last year.
But local advocates fear there are hundreds of others on our streets who can’t escape.
Action News Jax reporter Courtney Cole attended a conference today where local leaders talked about what they are doing to reach victims.
Sheriff Mike Williams said the key is educating the public.
The common misconception is victims are being driven in, or flown in from other states.
But Williams told Action News Jax they were able to save 38 victims right here in Jacksonville in 2018, and three of them were juveniles.
They also made 36 human trafficking-related arrests in 2018.
In 2017, they were able to save nine victims and make five arrests.
These are just three of the 36 arrests made for human trafficking in Jacksonville in 2018.
Sheriff Mike Williams said JSO’s Integrity Special Investigations Unit is dedicated to human trafficking cases.
But looking into the modern-day form of slavery is a challenge, because it's often hidden in plain sight.
"The more we dig, the more resources we put into it, the more cases we find,” said Sheriff Mike Williams.
Once victims are rescued, Kristin Keen says the key to keeping them safe is giving them access to a new job and a new community.
“Our hunch is that there are hundred of hundreds of women that need help, they just don't have access to it yet,” Keen told Courtney Cole.
For the last seven years, Keen as used Rethreaded as a way to give that access to as many women as she can.
The organization helps survivors by providing them with long-term employment and mental health services.
“We've worked with over 40 women...[they] were all trafficked in Jacksonville. We currently employee 15 women and we have a waiting list of 15 women,” Keen said.
Shopping at Rethreaded is one of the easiest ways you can help fight against trafficking.
Everything in the store is made by survivors.
When Cole asked Keen how she thinks we can ultimately end human trafficking, she said cutting back on demand is the key.
“Traffickers want to sell people because they want to make money. So if we can reduce demand and no one was buying human beings—that's really how we're going to end human trafficking,” said Keen.
When it comes to protecting your children from human trafficking, JSO shared this useful information with Action News Jax:
"What is most important to understand is that children and adults alike can be susceptible on any website, mobile application or gaming system that allows for the ability to chat. Users, as well as parents of those users should be aware that predators do not stop at just sex and/or dating websites or apps."
Tips for the kids and teens would include, but are not limited to:
- Making sure your parents know when you are online and what you are doing.
- Never give out any personal information to anyone in chat rooms, apps or on social media.
- Never send a picture to anyone over the internet without your parent's permission.
Tips for parents would include:
- Know what your children are doing online.
- Actively research child internet safety and have an open discussion with your kids on the topic.
- Take advantage of internet filters and other technology that will block inappropriate websites.
- Be leery of smartphones that allow kids unrestricted access to the internet outside of their parents presence and the ability to communicate with strangers.