Terry Coonan of the FSU Center for the Advancement of Human Rights teaches police investigators how to attack the problem of human trafficking in Florida.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- A form of modern day slavery is all across Florida right now and police are trying to figure out the best way to attack it.
On Monday in Tallahassee, police agents gathered at the headquarters of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and learned new ways to handle cases of human trafficking.
It's a serious problem in Florida. The state is ranked third in the nation in the number of human trafficking cases.
Terry Coonan of the FSU Center for the Advancement of Human Rights says many young women, both U.S. citizens and immigrants, are forced into prostitution.
He said runaway teenagers from around the country often flee to the Sunshine State dreaming of a life of beaches, resorts and fun nightlife. Instead, they end up stuck with a pimp in a life of sex trafficking.
Young immigrant women are sometimes brought to the U.S. with false promises of jobs, but Coonan says they find a very different situation here.
"Once they arrive they're told, 'You owe a smuggling debt of $5,000 or $20,000 or $40,000 and until you pay that off in forced prostitution, we own you.' Often the 'we" is an organized crime group, Russian, Asian, Latin American."
And it's not always sex trafficking. The girls are also exploited in labor trafficking for job sectors that rely on cheap labor.
Coonan said Florida's economy is riddled with human trafficking as agriculture, hotels and restaurants all compete for low-skilled labor.
"We found that our economy here in Florida is riddled with human trafficking. It's oftentimes in our restaurants, our hotels, our agricultural sector, where someone can come in, often it involves a subcontractor, someone who can go to a major hotel chain and say 'I have maids that can make your beds cheaper than other American subcontractors.' And the reason they're able to do that is that they're exploiting trafficking victims."
Police are focusing on how to uncover cases of human trafficking and how to help victims step up in prosecutions against traffickers. Coonan says oftentimes it's only the victim witness who can put the trafficker behind bars.
First Coast News