Human trafficking a problem everywhere, even the Suncoast

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- Human trafficking on the Suncoast is a problem that hides in the shadows, with women (and some men) young and old held captive and sold for sex. ABC 7 spoke with a Lieutenant in charge of a task force set up to prevent human trafficking, and with a mother who was willing to risk everything to save her daughter from the dark underworld of drugs and prostitution.

"To actually live it felt like a Lifetime movie," says Sarasota resident Camille Clemons, the mother of a human trafficking victim.

"She was rebellious child,” Clemons says. “She was running away and she got into the wrong hands while she was running away, and while she was gone she was [driven] from hotel to hotel being sold to different people."

Clemons says the traffickers got her daughter hooked on drugs and used them to help control her. For several years during that time, she spent countless hours trying to locate her daughter -- a search she says took her up down the Suncoast.

"I’ve chased them as far a Venice,” Clemons says. “To Tampa, to St. Pete."

Clemons was eventually able to get her daughter back, and for almost two years they've been trying to put the pieces of their lives back together.

"I think it’s very important and I hope something is being done about it, because our children are our future and if they don’t have anyone standing up for them they'll fall for anything,” she says. “So we need someone to help us with this stuff."

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is trying to be that someone. The FBI’s Operation Cross Country resulted in the recovery of 168 juveniles and the arrest of several people, including three right here in Sarasota.

"One individual … was arrested for using his computer and using the Internet to solicit a minor into sex," says Lieutenant Pat Ledwith of the Sarasota Police Department.

Sarasota Police Department participated in the FBI operation, and Lt. Ledwith says they will continue the effort to protect anyone being exploited for sex.

"The focus here locally has been on prostitution, and we've worked with several social groups and are looking at it as an exploitation type crime,” he says.

When Clemons heard about the operation it put a smile on her face, but the affects of what happened to her daughter have not gone away.

"It’s still a struggle for her. It’s sad, and the things that they are doing to our children [are] horrifying,” Clemons says. “I don’t wish this on any other family."