MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Every year millions of people, many of them children, are forced to work as sex slaves.
Florida has the third-highest rate of calls regarding human trafficking and it only gets worse when big events like the Super Bowl land here.
Law enforcement at the local, state and federal levels are on high alert with thousands of tourists flocking to our area. They are scouring the internet and watching the airports for signs of trafficking.
“This is a $150-billion industry worldwide,” said Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina.
The city’s police force is a key player in stamping out human trafficking.
Private investigator and anti-human trafficking crusader John Rode spends his days exposing prostitution going on at South Florida hotels, office buildings, and massage parlors. He believes at least half of the women are victims of human trafficking. Lured by the promise of a better life, the girls are often forced into selling themselves at the hands of the traffickers.
“If we can rescue one victim, it’s all worthwhile,” said Rode.
The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office said since they established their Human Trafficking Task Force in 2012, they’ve prosecuted 625 cases and have interacted with about 758 victims.
Broward County which uses a more narrow calculation said they’ve prosecuted at least 149 cases since 2012.
Jumorrow Johnson is the sex trafficking coordinator for the Broward State Attorney’s Office. While the face of the trafficker is hard to pin down, she said the profile of the girls living in the shadows of sex slavery has evolved.
“Foster care and runaways are hard to control,” said said.
Girls who come from stable homes sometimes find themselves working for sex traffickers through unforeseen circumstances.
CBS4 spoke to Lina Thompson who spent ten years being trafficked in Europe. She now lives in South Florida.
“I was in such shock in the beginning,” she said.
Thompson said she would be trafficked up to thirty times a day over the years, earning hundreds of thousands of dollars for the traffickers.
“The whole humiliation and what you go through, you are in jail,” she said.
Thompson escaped the life with the help of one of her Dutch clients. She said her trafficker was arrested and is serving prison time.
Thompson started twentyfour-seven.org, a website to help girls being trafficked.
She’s also placing barcodes in different languages so girls who are being trafficked can learn where to get help.
“We have them in 21 states and throughout the world,” she said.
They are at airports, in Uber cars, and at truck stops.
The hospitality industry is also doing its part by training staff to recognize signs of human trafficking at hotels, motels, and restaurants.
A hotline to report trafficking in South Florida has been set up. Anyone who suspects that it is happening can call (305) FIX-STOP (349-7867).