Human trafficking is a problem that takes place in the shadows of every community all around the county.
Predators seek out their prey and repeatedly manipulate and abuse these children causing a child to not be able to live a normal life.
In 2019, around 900 cases were reported in Florida alone. Although many are aware that this is happening, there is still so much to learn.
“There’s some things that are worse than death, human trafficking is one of them,” said Amy Burnette, Corporal of Criminal Investigations at the Bay County Sheriffs Office. “It’s layers and layers of physical and mental and emotional abuse.”
They have been through the worst. They have been repeatedly sexually battered, beaten and physically and emotionally abused.
Human traffickers prey on the most vulnerable members of society.
Many of these victims come from foster care systems or low income areas.
“Predators or pimps or vial creatures are what you should call them, but they look for children or young adults who are thrown away from society,” said Burnette.
Traffickers pick targets they can easily manipulate with gifts, money or drugs.
Experts say there are signs of trafficking victims – young females returning to a low income atmosphere with expensive items or cash. They might look scared or like being controlled.
And in a society dependent on technology, it’s much easier for predators and traffickers to find victims.
“A person that is looking for a kid to victimize they no longer have to sit at a park or in front of a school to try and identify their potential victims,” said Lt. JR Talamantez, Intelligence officer for the Panama City Beach Police. “They can sit behind their desk on the couch and surf the web and easily find those children that are accessing the internet without supervision.”
This means social media, web content and blogs.
It is important for parents to be monitoring their child’s internet use and never allow them to have unlimited access to the internet.
The horrors of human trafficking perminately damages a person. Experts say when you are trying to help it is important to allow them to recover at their own pace.
“Number one you have to meet the child for where they are,” said Sherri Eckhardt, Child advocate at Guardian ad Litem. “Don’t push them, accept them for who they are.”
Bay County offers a variety of resources for those struggling with the effects of human trafficking abuse and are always willing to help.