368: Human Trafficking Cases up 50 percent in Florida

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Florida is one of the leading states for human trafficking, and the volume of cases just jumped more than 50 percent, the Department of Children and Families reported.

Over 1,800 cases were called in last year, a 54 percent increase from 2015. That’s due in large part to increased training and a new screening tool developed between DCF, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice and the attorney general.

“The majority of these are not brand new victims. They’ve been victimized for a very long time and we are just now getting first responders trained in how to identify them,” said Nola Theiss, executive director of the Human Trafficking Awareness Partnership.

The human trafficking screening tool has been an asset, the DCF said. It’s used to identify at-risk youth who were arrested for crimes like prostitution, but may actually be victims of trafficking.

Jamie Walton is a human trafficking survivor who, as a teenager, was coerced into a sexual relationship with a man for money.

“I wasn’t aware that I was being trafficked,” she said. “He presented it as a relationship where he was going to take me away from my abusive home and take care of me, and that’s what sucked me in.”