IN PLAIN SIGHT: Investigator lifts curtain on child sex trafficking on the First Coast

Drugs, women and little girls are just some of what can be purchased at various hotels across the First Coast. An investigator takes us into the sex trafficking underworld of Jacksonville.

A private investigator took Julia Jenae on a ride along with her, showing where Jacksonville's sex trafficking spots are -- and in hopes to save girls. None

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. –  In various hotels sprinkled across the First Coast, there’s a supply and demand for the illicit—drugs, women, even little girls.

A veteran private investigator took First Coast News on a ride-along to the places she patrols most often when looking for exploited or missing persons.  

FCN is choosing not to release the identity of the investigator to protect the work that she does.

Many of the cases she works involve the sex trafficking of minors.

While working the case of an 11-year-old girl reported missing in Jacksonville by guardians, the investigator takes FCN on a survey of hotels along Philips Highway. She’s paying attention to parking lots with rental cars and extended stay locations. 

These indicators can point to places where numerous traffickers hide out in the hotels, she said.

“I would say right now in each of these hotel rooms I’m going to, one probably has 10 girls that are being trafficked right now,” the investigator said.

Where is it happening?

The hotbed for the cases she works include the north end of Philips Highway, Baymeadows Road at Interstate 95, Arlington Expressway and lodging off of JT Butler Boulevard’s west end.

 “A person who is being trafficked is not a person anymore to the trafficker, they are a commodity,” she said. “That person is now a person on a car lot to be sold, upgraded, and driven.”

She has been in this line of work for decades and says two or three times a month, she attempts to buy back people out of the lifestyle from the person controlling them.

This is the route First Coast News followed while riding with a private investigator who looks for young girls who are being exploited for sex.

“I put out a bounty saying I’ll pay to get the person back,” she said. “There may be drugs involved, but most people don’t go into prostitution because they want to.”

RELATED: Duval County ranks No. 5 for sex trafficking cases in Florida

Duval County currently ranks No. 5 as of June with 26 confirmed cases of child sex trafficking cases, according to state organization surveys. Other counties higher on the list include Broward County, Miami-Dade County and Orange County.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline ranks Jacksonville No. 48 on its national list of cities by the number of calls, with 320 calls made to the hotline about possible victims of sex trafficking in 2016.

Supply and Demand

The missing 11-year old she’s searching for was allegedly purchased for a night by a 60-year-old man for $20.

This investigator says buyers, commonly called Johns, come through the parking lots of hotels with their car windows down, ready to make a purchase.

“They know what they are looking for, this is the thoroughfare,” she said. “BackPage.com has been a game changer. It’s taken it off the streets [and to the smartphone.]”

RELATED: Florida State Attorneys aiming at child sex trade epidemic through new human rights division

BackPage.com, where escort ads are commonly placed, can also be used by investigators for stings, tracking down exploited girls and arresting traffickers.

“Police are doing everything they can, they’re aware of it,” she said. “Half of the time, the minor child is with the person that’s holding them captive, and they’re not going to say a word to police.”

Duval County Court records from 2012 to 2016 show 37 defendants were arrested and charged with crimes related to sex trafficking of adults or children including forcing another to become a prostitute, living off the earnings of prostitution, and coercing commercial sex activity by transporting an individual.

 

Searching for the Lost

Our investigator tracked leads to an area of Arlington nicknamed ‘Sin City.’ She used past records on the missing child to find past homes.

After interviewing neighbors, she learns several remember seeing the 11-year-old girl standing on the corner, trading cigarettes for sex. The investigator suspects the child’s mother is involved in the transactions.

“It’s little girls, and their mothers or their fathers are the ones pimping them out for drugs. That’s every day,” the investigator said.

RELATED: Parents of Orange Park missing teen speak out on trafficking

The investigator views the sex trade as a form of “genocide” for young girls and women who she worries will decide this is their profession after years of being forced into exploitation.

“It’s the children that we need to protect, the children that are getting human trafficked away,” she said. “That’s where our future is dwindling away.”

RELATED: Sex trafficking prevalent during Florida-Georgia weekend

There are numerous other factors that make sex trafficking an issue here in Jacksonville.

Big sporting events, such as Florida-Georgia, offer new avenues for traffickers to exploit young girls who are sought by visitors and residents in the area.

The State Attorney’s Office looks at these well-attended events, in addition to the developed highway system here in Jacksonville, as factors that make tracking these traffickers difficult.

Human Trafficking relief and prevention resources in Jacksonville

More programs continue to be developed for sex trafficking survivors. The Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center is a Jacksonville-based nonprofit organization that helps girls who have been exploited or victimized in the sex trade. Their parent organization, The Open Doors Outreach Network, connects girls with programs like the Policy Center to help young girls and women transition out of the lifestyle of sex trafficking and exploitation and into a healthy environment.

National Human Trafficking Hotline - 1 (888) 373-7888

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children - 1 (800) THE LOST

Open Door Outreach Network at the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center
904-412-8923

Polaris Project National Human Trafficking Hotline
1-888-373-7888

Northeast Florida Human Trafficking Coalition
neflahumantraffickingtaskforce@gmail.com

Women’s Center of Jacksonville
904-721-7273

Jacksonville Sheriffs' Office – Victim Advocate
904-630-1764 or 904-630-7879

Children’s Home Society
904-493-7744

State Attorney’s Office 

904-255-3099 (Human Rights Division)

904-255-2500 (Victim Advocate)

Note: A few days after First Coast News' interview with the investigator [identity withheld], sources confirmed the 11-year old girl referenced was recovered by law enforcement and transported to a Safe Harbor shelter facility in South Florida for aid and treatment. 

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