The first human trafficking arrest in Manatee County

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Posted: Wednesday, January 29, 2014 6:12 pm | Updated: 9:45 pm, Sun Feb 2, 2014.

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. - Less than a week ago, we told you about the report on Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi's initiative to put an end to human trafficking. She says Florida ranks 3rd in the nation, and Tuesday night in Bradenton, the first arrest was made in a human trafficking case.

The Manatee County Sheriff's Office says they've been investigating a few possible cases of human trafficking, but this is the first arrest since the Florida Legislature put a statute into place specifically on human trafficking.

After a week long investigation by Manatee county sheriff's office, detectives arrested 38-year old Elroy Johnson of Bradenton, for the human trafficking of a 15 year-old girl.

"The investigation revealed that she was being sold for sex, by this individual, so that is why the human trafficking charge came about,” says Dave Bristow, spokesperson for the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.

The Sheriff's office says the 15 year-old was a runaway, and on January 19th, Johnson picked her up along Martin Luther king Blvd. in Sarasota. He then brought her back to his home where he had sex with her.

"There was coercion here by the defendant because he was giving her marijuana,” says Bristow.

Chapter 787, of Florida Statutes, outlines human trafficking, the penalties, and implementation of training programs to identify trafficking.

Less than a week ago, Attorney General Pam Bondi spoke in Sarasota on her initiative to end human trafficking, and a Suncoast safe-house, Selah Freedom, described to ABC 7 a common scenario that victims face.

"Statistically now we know that within 48 hours, 80% of runaways are coerced into some form of the sex trade; and then within a matter of days, they're having them start a drug, get them hooked, addicted and sold,” Elizabeth Fisher, President of Selah Freedom.

Local Bradenton parents are shocked that modern day slavery happens in their community and fear for their own children.

"She just started driving so it's scary because she's not out on her own. I can't imagine to find out your daughter's been taken like that,” says Donna Hrycyk, a Bradenton resident.

"It's devastating. I have a 9 year-old. I watched a documentary on this just the other night, and she no longer walks home from school,” says Tammy Kerr, a Bradenton resident.

As a concerned parent, Aaron Kerr says there needs to be more awareness.

"The more knowledge that's out there about it, the education; because a lot of people may not think it's such a problem in this area,” says Aaron Kerr, a Bradenton resident.

Manatee county sheriff's office says the 15 year-old is now safe in Sarasota, but this human trafficking case is still under investigation. Johnson is charged with human trafficking, 3 counts of lewd and lascivious battery on a child, and a photo of sexual performance by a child. He is being held on $500,000 bond at the Manatee County jail.

If you would like to know how you can get involved in the fight against human trafficking, visit myfloridalegal.com or Selah Freedom's site for resources.

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