PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — It’s a crime that happens behind closed doors every day and with the power of social media and the internet, human trafficking has expanded to over 4 million people worldwide.
Officials with the Bay County Sheriff’s Office say this crime usually begins with teens or even children looking for acceptance or a sense of stability in their lives.
Often times it can start out as an intimate relationship or inter-family, but not always.
“They find a lot of children from broken homes, they find a lot of frequent runaways, that’s something we see in children trafficking. They coach them and coerce them and say ‘oh what’re you doing out here, the streets have bad people out here come here ill protect you, ill take care of you, you just have to do this.’ And before you know it they can’t leave,” said Bay County Sheriff’s Office Corporal, Amy Burnette.
Bay County Sheriff’s Office Corporal Amy Burnette says this happens across the county, and investigators are working hard to capture these criminals.
“Human trafficking is becoming much more apparent and much bigger because its a lot easier to sell people than it is to sell something like drugs,” said Burnette.
Authorities say sex trafficking impacts mainly people between the ages of 13 to 25. These traffickers will hook their victims on drugs to perform these forced acts.
Legitimate businesses such as hotels or casinos sometimes facilitate trafficking by turning a blind eye to this crime in exchange for profit.
“Knowing this is going on, they’re just as much a part of it as the person doing it,” said Burnette.
And experts say even parents will traffic their own kids for money or drugs.
“Sometimes the parent will turn an eye for a bag of meth, cocaine or even marijuana,” said Burnette.
Sheriff’s officials say young people can help friends who may be caught in a trafficking situation they can look out for behavior changes, suddenly withdrawn from social activity.
Also, look out for different vehicles picking up possible victims. And children who continue to runaway should be a red flag.
“Sometimes these children are running away for a specific reason, so if they’re running away so much ask why,” said Burnette.
Deputies advise that you stay in groups and do not let strangers approach you.
If anyone sees or hears anything involving these crimes you can contact Crime Stoppers completely anonymously at 785-TIPS.