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Police: Suspects used website to sell woman for sex; gas station employees credited with saving her life

Two people are charged with sex trafficking. The victim was able to escape by alerting employees at a Jacksonville gas station.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is releasing new details about how a woman was able to free herself from what was described as 'forced prostitution.'

The incident happened last August, with the victim ending up at a Circle K on Phillips Highway alerting employees she was being held against her will.

It's a scenario Donna Fenchel says happens too often.  "I've heard unfortunately many stories that are very similar to this," she said.

The police report says the woman was taken to two Jacksonville hotels by Taressa Conner and Steve Hoggard, who used a website to sell the victim for sex.

"They put her up on a website. The more and more of those what we can shut down, we just need to keep getting those websites shut down," Fenchel said.

She is a co-founder of The Villages of Hope, a non-profit that provides services and a home to survivors of sex trafficking.

Her latest project, a tiny house community on Jacksonville's westside, is set to begin taking in women in March.

"We actually make sure all of the services that a woman needs to get through the trauma and actually re-develop some self esteem," Fenchel said of the program.

According to the police report, while the victim and suspects were at the Circle K, the woman asked the employees for help.  They were able to pull her to safety as the suspects tried to drag her from the store.

"I have chills even just thinking about the bravery it took for them to take action and embrace this young woman and help her save her," Fenchel said of the response of the employees.

Conner and Hoggard are charged with several felonies, including sex trafficking. Police have not given an update on the woman's condition.

Credit: WTLV
Taressa Conner and Steve Hoggard are charged with sex trafficking after police say they held a woman against her will, using a website to sell her for sex.

Fenchel says warning signs of spotting a possible sex trafficking victim include appearing to be malnourished, avoiding eye contact, physical injuries including bruising and seeming scripted and rehearsed. 

 She says there's no doubt the gas station employees saved the woman's life.