Jeanette Nuñez Highlights Efforts Against Human Trafficking in Central Florida

This week, Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez hosted a roundtable discussion aimed at combating human trafficking and highlighting strong community partnerships in the Polk County area.

The roundtable brought together experts from the Department of Children and Families (DCF), One More Child, Heartland for Children, Central Florida Behavioral Health Network, and the Mayor of Lakeland, who discussed the integrated approach that state and community partners have undergone to detect and prevent human trafficking while enhancing survivor services.

“Governor DeSantis and I understand and recognize the threat that human trafficking poses to every neighborhood and every community within our state,” said Nuñez. “We must all take an active role to support survivors, hold these criminal traffickers accountable, and work in partnership to eradicate this heinous crime from our communities. Together, we will continue to build upon every opportunity to prevent human trafficking and provide hope for all impacted.”

“I am grateful for the partnership and innovation that is occurring around human trafficking awareness in our state,” said DCF Sec. Shevaun Harris. “The Department continues to expand our prevention efforts and service array to ensure survivors can heal and reclaim their lives.”

“The painful truth is human trafficking is happening in nearly every community in Florida and around the country. We applaud the governor and lt. governor’s proactive diligence to collaboratively educate, strategize, and act decisively to protect these children and adults,” said Dr. Jerry Haag, the president and CEO of One More Child. “The valuable partnerships One More Child has created with our state leaders, child welfare partners, law enforcement, health care professionals, business owners, and church leaders allows us to spread awareness, education, and care to vulnerable children. One More Child is continually searching for the next ‘one more’ who needs to know they are valued, loved, and not alone in dealing with this horrific crime.”

“While it can be difficult to hear, it is important for all parents and caregivers to listen to the stories of survivors of human trafficking,” said Teri Saunders, the CEO of Heartland. “Listening to their stories activates our need to protect vulnerable youth and our compassion for survivors on their healing journey.”

“We are grateful for the governor and lieutenant governor for making intensive services for human trafficking survivors a priority,” said Linda McKinnon, the president and CEO of Central Florida Behavioral Health Network. “Our providers are working hard to ensure survivors have the tools and help needed to regain control of their lives through behavioral health services.”

“I am proud to call Lakeland a Human Trafficking-Free Zone,” said Lakeland Mayor Bill Mutz. “It takes an entire community working in partnership to defeat human trafficking, and Lakeland has united to ensure these criminals know that it will not be tolerated here, and help is available for our survivors.”

In fiscal year 2020-2021, DCF reported receiving 2,289 allegations of human trafficking throughout the state of Florida, with nearly a quarter of the calls coming from Central Florida alone. 92.97 percent of the state’s allegations were related to Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, while 6.82 percent were over concerns of labor trafficking.

Although most believe that recruitment for children typically occurs in person, parents need to be cautious of their children’s internet usage. Recruiters now prefer to establish contact and relationships through cell phones, apps, social media, and video gaming systems.

Traffickers recognize and take advantage of people who they deem vulnerable in certain ways.
Examples include:

• Have an unstable living situation
• Have previously experienced other forms of violence such as sexual abuse or domestic violence
• Have run away or are involved in the juvenile justice or child welfare system
• Are facing poverty or economic need
• Have a caregiver or family member who has a substance use issue
• Are addicted to drugs or alcohol

If you believe you are a victim of Human Trafficking or suspect an adult is a victim of human trafficking, please visit the National Human Trafficking Hotline or call them at 1-888-373-7888. If you suspect a child is a victim, please call the Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE.

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