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Jacksonville Group Rescues Human Trafficking Victims

2:31 PM, Feb 8, 2012   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. --  On the streets of Jacksonville lurks a dangerous network of human trafficking.

Many are runaway teens, some under the age of 14. Others have been shipped to the U.S. All are being sold for sex.

"There's ways for them to contact us, and if they are ready to run we will send a team after them," said Dan Benedict, the founder of what is called the Defender Foundation.

Benedict has a history himself.  "I had an internet pornography addiction a while back myself, and it destroyed my life and my family." His past now has him on a mission: to give hope.

The Defender Foundation is a volunteer group in Jacksonville which hunts for victims of human trafficking across the world.

"Some major groups are behind this. Various bike gangs, russian organized crime," said Benedict.

The group has been up and running for one year.  It's now working with local Russian churches to track down victims.

"We have trafficking victims coming in from various ports in cargo containers drugged for that journey and then sold up the east coast," said Benedict.

He also notes his group has traveled from Jacksonville to Pennsylvania, the Dominican Republic and so far has helped rescue 15 girls in 10 different operations.

"I'm one of the first people that connects with them, make conversation and make them feel safe," said Erin Pruett.

Pruett is part of an all woman team in the Defender Foundation who has gone through combat training.  Her job is to make contact and help the girls escape.

"You can't do everything for everyone.  You can't rescue everyone, but you can do for one what you wish you could do for everyone, and that's how I take it," said Pruett.

Those with the Defender Foundation said the recovery process can be dangerous, but they are prepared for it.

"There's a security team.  Their goal is to be there within five seconds if there are any problems," said Benedict.

While the Defenders don't work in conjunction with police, they do pass along information to authorities.

"We are not out there being cowboys and kicking down doors," said Benedict.  He says his group has been met with some resistance by authorities.

Benedict said the Defender Foundation follows the law at all times. And if a rescued victim suddenly decides they don't want to leave,  "We are not kidnappers, we're going to have to let them off," said Benedict.

There's no way to tell how many are trapped inside the dangerous web of human trafficking.  It's so rampant, authorities can't even keep track.

That's why the Defender Foundation is focused on its mission to deliver hope to those in need of rescue.

"We could rescue every girl in the planet tonight. Tomorrow the demand is so huge that hundreds of thousands would be taken," said Benedict.

First Coast News

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