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35 human trafficking victims were identified by JSO in 2020: Know the warning signs

"One in six runaways reported in the United States are likely to become sex trafficking victims," says State Attorney Melissa Nelson.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Modern-day slavery. 

It's how Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams described the issue of human trafficking during a news conference Tuesday to recognize January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

"There's no specific profile for this time of victim ... sadly this type of crime is happening everywhere and can be, really, hidden in plain sight," said Williams. 

He said that 35 human trafficking victims were identified and/or rescued in 2020 in Jacksonville as a result of the efforts by JSO and community partners. Eight of those victims are juveniles. 

Mark Hoffman, an assistant special agent for FBI Jacksonville's Criminal Branch, weighed in on the importance of human trafficking awareness.

"As I speak with you today, thousands of innocent victims right here in the heart of the free world are being bought, sold and exploited by criminals," said Hoffman.

In a recent case handled by FBI Jacksonville, whose territory encompasses 40 Florida counties, Hoffman says it was able to identify 21 women who were forced into prostitution at massage parlors in Florida, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

But the issues involving human trafficking aren't just limited to adults.

"One in six runaways reported in the United States are likely to become sex trafficking victims," said State Attorney Melissa Nelson. "And our city is not immune to (these issues). We are, however, very fortunate to have heroes in this community who work together to fight this problem."

Nelson explained that five years ago at a similar news conference she announced changes to how the State Attorney's Office would approach human trafficking. 

Since then, the office has dedicated a single prosecutor to handle cases involving these types of crimes, established a TIPS hotline and has been recognized nationwide for advanced training measures.

Williams went over several warning signs of human trafficking which include, but are not limited to:

  • Living at their place of employment
  • Victim may act fearful, depressed, nervous or paranoid
  • Victim may refer to another person to speak for them
  • Victim may be forced to perform sex acts
  • The victim may not be allowed to go into public alone or speak for themselves

LOCAL RESOURCES: If you are a human trafficking victim or have information about a potential trafficking situation you can call JSO at 904-630-0500 or contact Crime Stoppers at 1-866-845-TIPS. 

NATIONAL RESOURCES: You cal also call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) at 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733. 

NHTRC is a national, toll-free hotline, with specialists available to answer calls from anywhere in the country, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also submit a tip on the NHTRC website.