JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Sexual slavery exists in Jacksonville neighborhoods. Children are being sold and forced into a life of prostitution. Florida ranks the third highest for cases of human trafficking in the United States. And Jacksonville is third in the state.
A local project is putting the spotlight on this very dark issue. Artworks for Freedom is a campaign using the arts to raise awareness of human trafficking across Jacksonville.
"She was kept naked in the room while a man by the name of Ian Sean Gordon sold her innocence for about $20 for 15 minutes of her time," said Crystal Freed, with Artworks For Freedom.
Gordon was sentenced to life in prison. He's just one among the numerous faces of men and women charged in Jacksonville and now behind bars for human trafficking.
"Jacksonville wake up," said Freed. "It's here and we need to take a stand against this atrocity in our city."
Freed helped to organize the Artworks for Freedom awareness initiative. She's hopeful the images that have been displayed at local college campuses and in downtown Jacksonville will spark a conversation about the problem lurking in the city, that she says is out in the open yet still kept hidden away.
"He use to always say 'rain, sleet or snow a hoe has got to go get a pimp's dough.' I still can replay that in my head all of the time," said Telisia Espinosa.
She's a survivor. One of very few victims unafraid to speak out about her ordeal, Espinosa was held captive for five years by a man she thought she loved. Working 10- to 12-hour shifts, and sleeping with anywhere from 20 to 40 men a night.
"On top of that I would have to deal with Johns sometimes pulling guns out on me, pulling knives out on me, having to fight them off because they didn't want to pay," said Espinosa.
She said she was lucky not to have been forced to do drugs or violently beaten. But that's a frightening reality for many human trafficking victims.
"There are hundreds of these children that are all around us and they are invisible to us," said Freed.
She advises those wanting to join in the fight to help put an end to human trafficking in the city to first educate yourself.
Visit http://usa.artworksforfreedom.org/ for more information and ways to support the cause.
Friday, from 6-7 p.m. at the University of North Florida, award-winning author, E.Benjamin Skinner will speak.
He's come face to face with modern day slavery, doing in-depth reports on what goes on.