MIAMI (CBS4) – “In Miami we found a human trafficking trade like we didn’t find in any other places,” says an alarmed Aaron Cohen, a modern day abolitionist who has documented the slave trade around globe many times over. From glamorous hotels to seedy motels, Aaron Cohen says Miami has emerged as a profitable target for human traffickers.
Emerging from his undercover work, he met with Chief I-Team Investigator Michele Gillen and walked her through a collection of his videos that show how some of these young women find themselves literally locked away with no freedom to leave or say “no” to being prostituted for sex.
On one, you hear a counselor who is called an interventionist, speaking with a young woman who, Cohen explains was a run away, lured to Miami with the promise of working as a model.
“You make them money. You are a money machine for them,” the interventionist explains to the girl with the hope of giving her hope and an exit.
The young woman responds “I ended up getting locked in a house”
Assisting in what ‘s called a “break away”, Cohen is a human rights advocate known as ‘The Slave Hunter’ – and he bought a so-called date with the girl to help her break away from her captors.
“They locked her in closets, they beat her if she disobeyed, they would starve her if she disobeyed,” says Cohen
She is one of thousands of women, men and children who have been rescued by Cohen, who often works undercover and along side law enforcement in some of the most dangerous, darkest places in the world. His aim now…our backyard.
“You have to look at on the East Coast, the cocaine cartels. The cartels are bringing girls in in droves into Miami,” says Cohen.
“When you think of trafficking in the US you have to make the connection with organized crime. And organized crime has drugs as their number one business, sex trafficking as their number two business and arms as their number three. What people are failing to realize is our own US citizens are being trafficked. Runaways who are picked up within hours of running away from their families are moved from state to state, forced into prostitution and other horrible acts,” says Carmin Pino, Assistant Special Agent in Charge, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, based in Miami.
Pino says he is outraged and haunted by this illegal trade and how South Florida has become a magnet for it and young American runaways are ever more vulnerable.
“We have very high end trafficking. (In) our escort services because Miami is very high end and a lot of money is involved. And now what’s becoming a very bad trend. US citizens are being abducted and taken abroad and they are being forced into a variety of heinous crimes,”says Pino.
Breaking girls into the trade often involves multiple rapes and torture.
“I was not prepared to see the amount of depravity that I was going to witness,” Cohen shares with Gillen.
Nor is local law enforcement. Police painfully told Gillen about an 18 year-old girl who they say was lured from a BBQ to go to a party. Instead she was brought to one Miami hotel and then another, where it’s alleged she was beaten and kept against her will for 31 days forced to essentially work those days and nights as a sex slave.
A Miami man and woman were arrested in the case and are set to stand trial in December for alleged crimes that include sex trafficking and kidnapping.
Meanwhile, it is the hoped for rescues that keeps Cohen going into the trades worst danger zones, including post earthquake Haiti.
But it is the reunions of freed slaves with their long lost loved ones, as he documented in Sudan, that propels him to find the next survivor and strengthens his voice to wake up the world. His message, “If we don’t do something about these problems we are feeding this monster that is going to eat us alive.”
ICE encourages the public to report suspicious criminal activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE. This hotline is staffed around the clock by investigators.
For more information, log on to www.abolishslavery.org