CHILD TRAFFICKING IN JACKSONVILLE
Imagine waking up and being in a room you’ve never seen before. There’s one person you recognize in your room - they take you from place to place, the scene changing almost daily. While the room changes daily, so do your visitors and the things they do, you don’t even understand. That is all you know.
This scene is unfortunately all too familiar with children in Jacksonville, Florida. For the past few years, Florida has ranked third in the nation for human trafficking calls to the Human Trafficking Hotline. As of June 2017, there have been 329 cases of human trafficking reported in Florida.
“Sex trafficking in particular is an underground criminal industry based on the principles of supply and demand,” says Rachel White, founder of Her Song Jacksonville, “If there were no buyers - demand - there would be no need of a supply.” So, it is obvious that there are people who want child sex, which is another problem in itself.
Most victims of sex trafficking either do not come forward about being trafficked, or do not even realize they are being trafficked. Most cases of human trafficking are discovered through “force, fraud, or coercion,” says Michaela Denny, the education and training director at Voices for Florida. This means that victims are either physically restrained and given false promises.
Jacksonville has become a growing spot for human trafficking cases because of its rapid growth, making it a popular spot for young people within the common age range of trafficking victims. Jacksonville ranks 42nd among the top 100 most populous cities in the U.S. for human trafficking.
More than half of human trafficking cases reported involve a victim older than 18. In 2017, the Human Trafficking Hotline, received 225 calls from adult victims.
“Common risk factors include history of abuse and neglect, substance abuse, and lack of support systems,” says Denny. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean all victims come from a troubled background.
Every victim of human trafficking comes from different backgrounds. Alyssa Beck was a straight A student who got caught up in the world of drugs and human trafficking at 15 years old.
“I believe prevention starts with healthy families and substantial support for developing children, especially fathers taking a primary role in protecting and providing safety and stability for their children,” says White. When homes become violent, a child’s basic needs go unmet, causing the child to seek help elsewhere - quickly becoming an opportunity for them to be trafficked.
Sex trafficking can be happening almost anywhere and you’d never know. Storefronts, motels, and website are common hosts for traffickers and their victims.
“Sex trafficking exists in venues such as fake massage businesses, escort services, residential brothels, in public on city streets and in truck stops, strip clubs, hostess clubs, hotels and motels, and elsewhere,” says White.
But, these aren’t the only places human trafficking can occur.
“People can be trafficked from their own homes,” says Denny. “So, ‘movement’ isn’t the only sign of trafficking.”
“Much of the sex trafficking industry happens online where women and young people are advertised for sale,” says White. Online websites like backpage.com have become popular for sex traffickers to advertise their victims. Similar to Craigslist, on this site, you’ll find many explicit posts of women, written as if they were trying to sell themselves, not be sold - making it hard to differentiate between sex trafficking posts and genuine posts from the women themselves.
“Girls who are being trafficked often have a loyalty to their trafficker, called a trauma bond, which is why it is difficult for them to escape. Many are held by these psychological bonds which traffickers intentionally create during a grooming period by isolating victims and creating emotional and physical dependence,” says White.
The recovery process after either being recovered by law enforcement or escaping is a long and hard one. Victims need support from basic needs such as food, safety, and a resting place. Past that, they will also need trauma counseling and help integrating back into the community with job skills, education and more.
There are many places like this in Jacksonville helping victims of sex trafficking post-recovery. Her Song and Voices of Florida are just two of those. Both of these organizations offer places of rest, healing, and refuge for victims so that they can focus on overcoming this trauma.
“We focus on her strengths and her resilience and how she can grow beyond her trauma,” says White.
Her Song Jacksonville just opened their first home on October 31, 2017.