JACKSONVILLE, Fla — No community goes untouched by this crime but it often goes unseen: Human trafficking.
Jacksonville Sheriff's Office's Assistant Chief Lakesha Burton says they made 33 arrests for human trafficking last year and saved 10 adults and five kids.
It was 20 years ago that Lisa Sheehan learned the term human trafficking.
“By definition, I was trafficked more than I ever realized," Sheehan admitted to a crowd at FSCJ.
Sheehan said she had been trafficked since she was 4 years old in her home state of Massachusetts.
“My stepmother gave me cocaine when I was 12 years old and told me all I had to do was sleep with the man who was coming over," she described.
Sheehan eventually entered foster care, then she was a runaway in need of basic necessities to live.
“Many of these pimps would routinely rape me and beat me in exchange for food shelter and drugs," Sheehan said. "I did not realize I was being trafficked. This just looked like life to me.”
As she spoke at the seminar for human trafficking awareness, the lobby at FSCJ looked like a gift shop.
“All these products you see have been made by women who now have started a new life," said Kristin Keen.
Keen is the founder of Rethreaded, a gift shop run by survivors.
“We’ve actually hired more women than ever during COVID because we knew the need," Keen explained. She said during any time of crisis, they see the violence against women increase. She said a survivor said it is because the trafficker becomes more stressed during these times and takes it out on the victim.
“My story was probably uncomfortable for some of you to hear," Sheehan said.
Uncomfortable, but necessary.
Sheehan is now a survivor mentor working with Jacksonville organizations to help other women overcome.
You can report human trafficking. Even if you aren’t sure and you see something suspicious, call the Women’s Center of Jacksonville’s hotline at 904-721-7273. It is a 24/7 hotline.