Hidden Atrocities (Part One): The untold story of human trafficking in North Central Florida

Woman sitting in the corner crying
Woman sitting in the corner crying

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'”

 Matthew 35:24-26

 Human trafficking is a dark and shadowy business that reaches across the world, and right here in our community exacting a catastrophic toll on its victims. At this very moment in Gainesville and North Central Florida, there are captives struggling to escape this modern-day form of slavery. There may be no cruelties forced on a person with longer-lasting effects, no crimes more misunderstood, and no subjects more difficult to discuss.

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Human trafficking takes lives, steals freedom, destroys families, puts businesses in peril, and exacts a strenuous toll on schools, government, law enforcement, and neighborhoods alike. 

The term “human trafficking” is a broad-brush descriptor for a subset of crimes that includes child, labor, and sex-trafficking among its atrocities. It’s vague, mysterious, somewhat invisible, but at its core, it’s the business of stealing people’s freedom for profit. 

Victims of human trafficking are often tricked, defrauded, lied to, assaulted, blackmailed, threatened, or manipulated into working under inhumane, illegal, or otherwise reprehensible conditions or forced into selling sex. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry that enslaves people worldwide, and too little is known or understood about its ways.

It has been present in humankind almost since the dawn of time. It’s been justified, ignored, and in some cultures and eras, legally practiced. And unlike victims of other crimes, trafficked people are often judged, blamed, maligned, manipulated, beaten, drugged, jailed, and scorned.

 Human trafficking has a reach that extends to an estimated 40-45 million victims worldwide. You may think this inhumane practice is primarily a foreign issue. If so, you need only talk to law enforcement officers, judges, attorneys, teachers, doctors, and nurses in our community to learn it is throughout the United States, Florida, Alachua County, Gainesville, its suburbs, and the small rural communities nearby.

The likelihood is that victims of human trafficking live in your neighborhood, go to school with your children, harvest or process much of the food on your dinner table, sew the clothing you wear and manufacture the shoes on your feet. Human trafficking stretches far beyond prostitution, massage parlors, and strip clubs. Its roots are present in pornography, the agricultural industry, food processing plants, and the textile industry.

Mainstreet Daily News conducted an extensive investigation into the many forms of human trafficking locally to learn its effect on the Greater Gainesville and North Central Florida region. The results we found were sobering.

While Mainstreet’s mission is to inform, inspire, and engage, this series will also shock, offend, anger, frustrate, and upset many readers. We also hope that at the conclusion, it will serve as a call to action. 

This is an all-hands-on-deck moment for our community. 

Child Trafficking

Inside the first of two five-part series, Mainstreet tells the story of real-life sex-trafficking victims, written in a narrative format that allows them to tell their stories safely. In most cases, these brave survivors spoke to us anonymously. In all cases, Mainstreet knew the person’s name, verified their identity, and confirmed their stories through other sources, court records, and arrest/incident reports from law enforcement agencies. We also include the accounts of several criminals convicted of human trafficking-related crimes. 

Mainstreet also interviewed local law enforcement officers, a US Attorney specializing in trafficking cases, and the founder of a non-profit organization dedicated to eradicating local sex trafficking.

In the second five-part series, Mainstreet Daily News investigates the equally mysterious and invisible world of labor trafficking. And although it is to some degree hidden from both law enforcement and the public’s eye, it is an emerging problem just as detrimental to society as sex-trafficking.

In the final installment of both series, Mainstreet offers readers solutions and ways to get involved and stand against human trafficking in all its forms. We hope it will inspire you to action. 

Tuesday in Part Two: The Survivors – Three local victims of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation tell their shocking and inspiring stories of trauma, escape, and recovery.

To read part two, go here.

To read part three, go here.

To read part four, go here.

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