Many believe human trafficking only happens in other countries, or in certain areas and among certain classes, but the threat is even scarier than you know. Florida ranks as one of the top three states in the U.S. for human trafficking, and a significant amount of reports to the human trafficking hotline are attributed to cases right here in Central Florida.
Children of all ages and races are at risk. Predators lure innocent youth – both girls and boys – using social media and other methods of persuasion, whether they live in a rundown apartment in a bad part of town or in a beautiful home in the suburbs. Befriended with promises of something more – money, a relationship or a sense of belonging – the trafficker gains the child’s trust before eventually subjecting him or her to a horrible existence.
Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health Florida, a statewide organization providing specialized clinical services for trafficked youth, has worked with hundreds of children and adolescents throughout the state. Many of those served by Devereux have been foster youth who have experienced repeated trauma throughout their young lives.
While you may think you would recognize the signs of human trafficking, would you truly know it if you saw it? Some warning signs in youth include:
-Repeated runaways, gone or “working” for excessively long hours
-Having extra money or unexplainable access to new possessions
-Frequent school absences and/or a sudden change in academic performance
-Questionable friends or the presence of a controlling friend/boyfriend
-Fearful, submissive, depressed or anxious behavior
-Avoiding eye contact, social interaction and authority figures
-Withdrawn or lack of interest in preferred activities
-Showing signs of physical injuries or abuse
-Increased time spent on social media
-Numerous inconsistencies in his/her story
-Lose sense of time and whereabouts
When the public gets involved with efforts put in place by community leaders and organizations like Devereux, we get a little bit closer to the goal of ending human trafficking.
What Can I Do?
REPORT ABUSE. If you suspect a child or teen is a victim, please call the Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE. If you believe you are a victim of human trafficking or suspect an adult is a victim of human trafficking, please call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-800-373-7888.
BECOME A FOSTER PARENT. Devereux’s foster parents receive training and strategies that will help them deal with any issues that arise when dealing with children who have been abused and neglected. This allows them to create a safe and stable environment for children to heal. To become a foster parent of for more information, email FLFosterCare@DevereuxFL.org.
GET INVOLVED. Learn more about the organizations dedicated to providing a path of healing for survivors of sexual exploitation. For more information visit www.DevereuxFL.org.