PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — Human trafficking is one of the largest undetected crimes in the world and local authorities are hoping to make you more aware of it.

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month.

Human Trafficking is one of the largest criminal activities in the world, yet it’s mostly undetected.

Every January, The 14th Judicial Circuit Human Trafficking Task Force provides resources and education to the community about how trafficking occurs.

“I do want to make sure that we realize that trafficking is not an international incident, that you can be born here, raised here and trafficked here,” FSU PC Professor and Co-Chair of the Task Force Dr. Laurie Lawrence said.

Lawrence said child and adult trafficking and sex and labor trafficking are prevalent in the Panhandle.

“The hospitality industry is now mandated by the State of Florida to have human trafficking awareness training, and that’s an annual training that they’re supposed to participate in because so much trafficking does take place,” Lawrence said. “And being a beach community, you can only imagine how much trafficking actually occurs right in plain sight.”

Lawrence said the stereotypes about trafficking are damaging.

The most common misconception is abductions.

“That is actually about 1 percent of human trafficking,” Lawrence said. “So when we look through a really small hole, we miss a really big picture. Most victims know their traffickers.”

In 2021, the Panhandle had the highest rate per capita of child victims for the entire state, at 282.

In every Bay County human trafficking case, social media was used.

Apps like Snapchat, Tik Tok, Instagram and Facebook were the most common.

Florida is ranked third in the nation for identified human trafficking and worldwide there are over 40 million individuals enslaved in trafficking right now.

Corporal Amy Burnette with the Bay County Sheriff’s Office said the most important thing for people to realize is that human trafficking exists under our noses in plain sight every day.

“People come here from all over to see the world’s most beautiful beaches,” Burnette said. “What do people want at the beach? Sex and money. And that’s where your sex is. You have your sex trafficking and your labor trafficking. So I think it’s very important for people to recognize it.”

The human trafficking task force is hosting a free event on January 11 at FSU PC on Human Trafficking Awareness Day.

There will also be a free human trafficking conference on January 11 at FSU PC from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Visit their Facebook page for more information.