BAY COUNTY, Fla. - Thursday, January 11th is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness Day. Human trafficking involves force, fraud or coercion in exchange for labor or sexual exploitation. Many victims are children and it's happening online.
"It's happening here, it's happening all over the country, and world," said Panama City Beach Police Department's Lieutenant J.R. Talamantez.
Lt. Talamantez said human trafficking and child exploitation cases are more prevalent now more than ever largely because children have access to the internet.
"The methods a child predator is using now is not the same as what they were doing two, three years ago. They evolve with technology. They evolve just like our children evolve with technology," said Lt. Talamantez.
Technology can pose risks for children but also enhance their education as seen with the introduction of chrome books at Bay District Schools.
"We as a school felt it was very important to remind them the importance of being safe," said Mowat Middle School Library Media Specialist Betsy Balmer.
Mowat Middle School takes children's online safety seriously, requiring all students to complete a nine week digital citizenship course where they learned how to protect themselves and their information on the internet.
"Just because someone tries to chat with you doesn't mean that it's a 17-year-old student or even another middle school friend. If you don't know who they are you shouldn't be chatting with them," said Balmer.
Students like 8th grader Madeline Worth learned valuable lessons from the course.
"I was more careful who I talked to on apps like Facebook and Instagram," said Worth.
As with all crimes, if you see something, say something.
"I'm a firm believer that education and awareness will far surpass enforcement when it comes to real change," said Lt. Talamantez.
Lt. Talamantez will continue the discussion Saturday January 13th where the public is invited to attend a "Parents Against Predators" class at 8:30a.m. at City Church at Northside.
It will be hosted by the Panama City Beach Police Department and the Bay County Human Trafficking Coalition.
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