COLLIER COUNTY, Fla. — Human Trafficking is a common, yet quiet crime where victims often suffer in silence. Local advocates are educating Southwest Florida schools and healthcare providers during January for Human Trafficking Awareness month.
Florida ranks third in the nation for human trafficking cases. The National Human Trafficking Hotline reported 11,000 cases in 2018. That’s only those who were able to come forward.
Advocates say victims usually avoid contact and someone else usually speaks for them. Kristine Hollingsworth with the Florida Department of Health Collier County said trafficking can happen where you least expect it, like when you’re applying for a job.
“If you are homeless or you really are just down and out, traffickers will sit there and promise you a better life,” she said.
Hollingsworth added traffickers prey on sites like Indeed and Glassdoor to lure victims into a life of forced work, and some never get out.
The top types of trafficking are sex trafficking like escort services and labor trafficking including domestic work and a combination of both.
Hollingsworth said traffickers also use social media to target young people going through typical teenage troubles.
“Mom and dad, they’re getting a divorce. No one understands me. My boyfriend just broke up with me. I hate my life. And then someone will come in and say you’re beautiful, you should be a model,” she said.
But, she said those too are false promises used to trap the most vulnerable.
But even if you see these signs and have doubts, advocates like Megan Dalabes with Abuse Counseling and Treatment Inc. (ACT), urge you to speak up.
“It’s okay if you’re not 100% sure you saw what you saw. Or you’re not really sure what happened,” said Dalabes. “We’re trained to ask questions to be able to support that person. And get them connected to whatever resources they might need.”
ACT is partnering with local agencies like the Lee County Department of Health, Fort Myers Police Department and Cape Coral Police Department to provide resources to survivors.
To keep the conversation going, ACT encourages everyone to wear blue on Friday January 17. If you or someone you know is in trouble, you can text the National Human Trafficking hotline at 233-733 or BE FREE.