Florida ranks 3rd in the nation for human trafficking; local org raising awareness at Super Bowl

Updated: Jan. 29, 2020 at 7:00 PM EST
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SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - The state of Florida ranks third in the country for human trafficking.

Human trafficking is up 25-percent in the Sunshine State. With the Super Bowl just a few days away law enforcement agencies are on high alert.

“What I think is important for people to know is that it’s actually GREAT news. Because the truth is it has been happening and it’s gone unreported. It’s been eyes wide shut, no one knew what they were looking at,” said co-founder of Selah Freedom, Elizabeth Melendez Fisher Good.

Selah Freedom is a national anti-trafficking organization based out of Sarasota. They’ve helped train law enforcement agencies to identify human trafficking..

They helped in the 2017 Houston Super Bowl and this Super Bowl they’re promoting their help number on the national stage.

This weekend you might see some celebrities sporting these removable tattoos and bracelets. It’s an effort to raise awareness on human trafficking.

Selah Freedom representatives say large sporting events like the big game this weekend drives trafficking up 10 times more than usual.

“So Miami is going to be extremely proactive in combating it as well as when it comes to Tampa. They’re already working collaboratively on making sure Florida is setting the bar higher than what happened last year in Atlanta with convictions and protection,” said Elizabeth Melendez Fisher Good.

Training law enforcement on how to identify human trafficking is important.

“We were one of the first agencies to partner with Selah Freedom. They’ve been a big help with tackling the prostitution and human trafficking problem in Sarasota,” said Sgt. Jeffrey Ball with the Sarasota Police Department Street Crimes Unit.

Selah Freedom says the police department is setting a benchmark and keeping traffickers away.

Elizabeth Melendez Fisher Good said, “Traffickers took you everywhere and you never came down to Sarasota and she said, ‘No my trafficker said literally in her words ‘Sarasota don’t, play I’m not taking you there.’’” She says the Sarasota Police Departments efforts are being replicated in the state and nationally.

Nationally, Congress is also keeping a close eye on the growing issue in the state. United States Representative Vern Buchanan submitted a bill that would provide federal grants to tackle the problem.

The Florida Department of Children and Families reports the Suncoast region had the second-most reports of human trafficking of any region in the state.

Sgt. Ball says education is key. He recommends people to keep a close eye out. Somethings you can look at are if a woman looks like she is being controlled by a man or group, or someone is controlling the phone habits of someone else like not allowing them to call their family or friends.

Ball says if you see something, to report it.