Hundreds of professionals, from social workers to lawyers, met Friday in Jacksonville for the first annual See the Girl Summit focusing on human trafficking.
The problem has gripped not only Florida but Jacksonville for years.
Action News spoke to a survivor and experts who say there’s no one way to fix the problem.
The goal of the See the Girl Summit is to arm attendees with knowledge that will soon turn into action, especially in Jacksonville, where human trafficking is happening at alarming rates.
If you see Audrey Morrissey today, you would never guess two decades ago, she was living a life she doesn’t wish upon anyone.
“The first time that I stood on a corner, the first car that pulled up and I got in that car and he flashed a badge he was a police officer, I remember him saying that I needed to perform a service on him or he would arrest me,” Morrissey said.
She was only 16. Now she’s the associate director for My Life My Choice, a program that helps fight human trafficking.
“It was very horrific. A lot rapes, a lot sawed-off shotguns to my head, razors to my throat,” Morrissey said.
It’s her knowledge and experience that was front and center at the first annual See the Girl Summit in Jacksonville, where dozens of people gathered to come up with ways to stop this growing problem.
“Jacksonville locks up, sends more girls away to razor-wire facilities than Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa combined,” said Dr. Lawanda Ravoira, president and CEO of the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center.
That’s the core of the problem. Keynote speaker Malika Saada Saar said the laws in the books need to change.
“These children are being subject to serial rape and we arrest them for child prostitution,” Saar said.
Saar said not only do police need to go after the traffickers but there need to be stiffer penalties for buyers.
In the meantime, survivors like Morrissey said she’s proof that there is hope.
“There's a space for us in this world to do really great work and make a difference,” Morrissey said.
Leaders said not only do laws need to be changed but leaders tell me there need to be a deeper look into the foster care system where most victims are coming from.