Illegal crimes have always been a lucrative industry in the United States, yet one sector has proven to be an evil that has a particularly complicated arrangement. Human trafficking is defined as the action of illegally transporting people for the purposes of forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation. Labor trafficking involves the victim to be employed to perform services with the expectation of being paid, which usually isn’t the case. Sex trafficking on the other hand, is defined as any type of force or coercion in order to gain a sex act from another.
According to Florida Health, “Statistics rank Florida as the third highest trafficking destination in the country, with half of all trafficking victims under the age of 18.”
Adam Granit, a detective with the Davie police department, explained the reasoning for such high traffic is due to a few contributing factors, including proximity to the oceans or ports, the tourist attraction and the climate of the state.
“Florida is a transient state [in terms of changing weather]. We don’t have to worry about transportation issues due to weather like in the northern states. When it comes to certain types of trafficking, they have the ability to not be confined as much” said Granit.
Traffickers target young adults typically between the ages of 14 to mid 30s, looking for people who could be easily persuaded and taken advantage of. In most cases, this tends to be women who are unemployed, struggling to make ends meet or those easily persuaded with money. These victims are usually drawn into sex trafficking through monetary needs and a promise of providing a better lifestyle.
Before this past summer, traffickers were able to use websites like Backpage to sell the victims, but the FBI shut down the site in April. Since this website has been taken down, traffickers are using other applications to complete sales and keep business going.
But identifying victims of human trafficking is not cut and dry. This industry, domestically and locally,is not easy to identify— it all depends on the victim and on each case.
“Some cases there have been [a return to normal routine]. In others, there are people who are trapped and can’t get away period. Others return to their normal life and at night, have to report back to the trafficker” said Granit.
There is also a physical aspect to these victims. All of a sudden, victims will act and look totally different. This all depends on the victims personalities.There can be bruising, brandings and other markings given to the victims from the traffickers and “pimps” as a way of showing control or ownership of them.
“If their body is responding to a trauma of them being a victim [of this crime] then yes they are going to be shut down and quiet. The demeanor is going to be totally different. But, on the other side you’re can see someone go from nothing to a lot, very quickly. The quickness of money to do what they want to do with [victims] bodies. Not to say that it is [always the case] but it could be” explained Granit.
According to the Broward Human Trafficking Coalition, “in 2017, the Florida Abuse Hotline accepted 149 reports in Broward County concerning allegations of youth involved in Human Trafficking and or commercial sexual exploitation”.
Of those cases, 40 were verified as true circumstances of human trafficking. But the biggest issues once these cases are identified involves getting victims to be cooperative. Most victims, depending how long they have been involved, are susceptible to Stockholm syndrome, where they don’t want to leave the trafficker, as it will take away a source of income or from someone they have been manipulated to have emotions for over time. In the victim’s mind, it is not in their best interest to leave these situations.
“I’m the bad guy taking them away from their lucrative money that they don’t even care about what they are going through. [At that point] they don’t care they are getting beaten, some of them look at it as getting a lot of money and as law enforcement we are taking it away from them” said Granit.
The best advice for young adults is to be aware of their surroundings and understand that if a situation sounds too good to be true, there has to be something wrong with it. Always question those scenarios when they come along and do your research.
If you ever fall victim to human trafficking or suspect someone you know might have, try your best to come forward. There are two avenues to report crime of human trafficking: The National Human trafficking hotline run by Polaris, an organization that deals with human trafficking, and The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
According to Granit, “it’s better to report it and find out it’s nothing rather than not reporting it and it wind up being something.”
If you suspect someone is a victim of human trafficking, please call the Florida Abuse Hotline at 1 800-96-ABUSE
The National Human Trafficking Tip Line: 1-888-373-7888