JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – “You have got to help me get out of this.”
That’s what one woman desperately told an undercover officer in a prostitution sting. Officers learned her pimp would beat her “like a man almost daily,” according to a Duval County arrest warrant.
It got worse.
The woman’s captor had a “Taser” that he would shock her with when she didn’t do what he wanted, the arrest warrant said. He would also regularly pull a gun on her, according to the warrant.
The details are disturbing and these are just a few allegations of sex trade from open cases in Jacksonville.
In another police report, detectives noted a victim said her pimp said, “He was offered ten thousand dollars to buy her.”
The News4Jax I-TEAM combed through eight recent human trafficking arrests in Duval County, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg. The victims are male and female ranging in age from toddlers to adults.
“She had anywhere between six to eight dates per day,” investigators wrote in one report, noting sex services would be around $200 an hour. (”Dates” is what traffickers call the victims’ encounters with Johns.)
Some of these sex slaves are sold for more than $1,000 a day. It’s money that goes to their captor; the victims get food, a place to sleep and drugs to make them more productive.
He “provided an allowance of $200 to get her nails done and to buy food…the ecstasy would help her stay up and keep working and making money,” another arrest report said.
“The hardest part of my job is turning away cases. There’s more cases than we can actually work,” said Supervisory FBI Agent C.J. Goodman, who is a leader on the Crimes Against Children and Human Trafficking Task Force.
Being a father himself, he admits it takes a toll on him. He said the enticement and opportunity for predators is more accessible than ever.
“Predominantly were seeing it online,” he said. “There’s a lot of enticement that goes on online through various social media apps.”
It’s not one social media website or app, it can be on practically any of them. Goodman said the predators often groom their victims with compliments, then companionship, money and often drugs and alcohol. It usually starts with a private message on a social media profile for an at-risk child.
“Their life is pretty much out there,” he said. “And the traffickers will look through that for those at-risk factors. Do they have problems with their parents? Are they having problems at school? Are they putting themselves out there as sexually active?”
Victims are used for child pornography or prostitution.
“Within three months of me starting that job, the person who moved out there for the job started trafficking me,” said Tara Madison, a sex trafficking survivor who now works to prevent future cases.
She said she trafficked in the 90s as a teenager and young adult, lured in by the promise of a job working promotions at biker and tattoo events across the country: dreams of good money and travel turned to a living nightmare.
“The relationship became extremely, extremely abusive,” she said. “And actually just like getting in, it was like a couple years of planning to get out.”
She gained her attacker’s trust enough to work alone and then ran. She now works across the country to help people identify trafficking and to help victims break free. Her abuser was never arrested.
She said movements like #SaveTheChildren, overtaken by QAnon, work against her job. The online conspiracy theorists claiming police and politicians are covering up widespread kidnappings and masks are helping it happen.
“We work so hard to educate the public so they can see the red flags of trafficking and identify what’s happening in their own neighborhoods,” she said. “And of course those stories, it’s false information and people are believing false information. It’s not helping anybody, it’s not helping the cause at all. It’s actually creating more damage.”
Madison and Goodman said people who want to help should focus their attention on mentoring vulnerable kids, minimizing their risk online and giving them a stronger support system.
It’s life or death: Victims don’t make it out alive.
“A large number of the sex trafficking victims that we have been working over the last 10 years, unfortunately, they are deceased,” Goodman said. “Suicide is a lot of it, drugs are a lot of it, but we have also seen murders as well. It’s very sad.”
Many of the local cases we looked at are still going through the legal system: The state attorney has been appointing specific prosecutors for these sex crimes. And while they do that, the first line of defense is at home.
“I wish it was a law enforcement only problem we could just throw more agents or police or sheriff’s deputies at the problem,” Goodman said. “But it really does require a partnership with the community and especially with parents.”
“We see large trafficking and pedophile rings, yes that happens, that’s true, but it’s also happening in our counties and in our local areas on a smaller scale,” Madison said. “It could just be a neighbor or stepfather or a brother or a boyfriend who has a couple of teenage girls that he is soliciting out of the high school. And he is trafficking them to older men.”
Both Madison and Goodman said the pandemic is making the trafficking fight harder. People are online more, they’re inside more and it gives attackers more access to work under the radar to find their victims.
If you are a human trafficking victim or have information about a potential trafficking situation, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) at 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733.
If you believe a child is involved in a trafficking situation, submit a tip through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s CyberTipline or call 1-800-THE-LOST. FBI personnel assigned to NCMEC review information that is provided to the CyberTipline.
FBI Human Trafficking Task Force: https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/violent-crime/human-trafficking
Recognizing the signs of human trafficking: https://humantraffickinghotline.org/human-trafficking/recognizing-signs