BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB)– You may have noticed blue and pink flags flying on the Hathaway Bridge early Tuesday evening and wondered what they signified.

Jan. 11 is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day and the 14th Judicial Circuit Human Trafficking task force is working to honor past victims and create a world in which human trafficking does not exist.

“There are 282 flags representing child victims of sex and labor trafficking within our area,” said Human Trafficking task force board member, Dr. Laurie Lawrence.

The 14th Judicial Circuit Human Trafficking Task Force serves six Panhandle counties. According to the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) in 2020, the Panhandle region had the highest rate per capita of child victims in the entire state of Florida, and that number was 201, and in 2021 the number of victims increased by 40%.

This Tuesday evening, the task force will honor victims through a candlelight vigil at the bottom of the Hathaway Bridge at 5 p.m. They will walk across the bridge, if weather allows, to show support and raise awareness. The Hathaway Bridge will be illuminated in its usual blue, which is also the color to raise awareness for human trafficking. There will also be a speech from a local human trafficking survivor, Kendra Gracia. Coffee will also be provided.

The 14th Judicial Circuit Human Trafficking Task Force meets bi-monthly via zoom and is now focusing on creating a strategic plan to address the needs of awareness and victim advocacy in the area. If you are interested in volunteering you’re encouraged to contact Dr. Lawrence at llawrence@fsu.edu.