At 16, Ellie couldn’t believe her luck. After answering an ad on Craig’s List, she received a one-way plane ticket to Florida, with promises of her dream job in modeling. Three years later, deputies brought Ellie to The Shelter from the hospital. Instead of a dream job, she had been thrust into a nightmare of violence and sex trafficking.
Ellie’s story epitomizes the unspeakable dehumanization suffered by millions of human trafficking victims exploited for sexual purposes or forced labor in the United States. But she is one of the lucky ones. The average life span of a human trafficking victim is seven years; Ellie got out in three, thanks to deputies, who identified her as a victim rather than an offender. Ellie cooperated fully with local law enforcement. She found safety, housing, clothing and counseling at The Shelter and was ultimately reunited with her mother.
Unfortunately, most cases of human trafficking do not have happy endings.
Nationally, Florida ranks as one of the top three areas of the country for human trafficking. While we live in a community that one might not associate with human trafficking, it is important to note that The Shelter has served 38 victims of human trafficking between 2014-16. Most of these were victims of sex trafficking.
To address this growing problem, the Shelter recently announced the upcoming construction of the Shelly Stayer Shelter for Victims of Human Trafficking & Domestic Violence in Immokalee, FL. Designed by Naples architect David Corban, the 15,000-square-foot, 32-bed facility will feature three main areas, one to accommodate the long-term therapeutic needs of victims of human trafficking, a second to shelter victims of domestic abuse and a third dedicated to Immokalee outreach. The $5.4 million facility will be built on five acres of undisclosed property in Immokalee. Click here for more information
Increased awareness of human trafficking has led the Collier County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) to dedicate a full-time detective specifically for human trafficking. On March 6, 2015, the CCSO and Florida Department of Law Enforcement arrested 15 traffickers and rescued six women, some of whom were forced to perform 25-45 sex acts a day.
“There is no other agency in Collier County better prepared to address the short and long term needs of domestic violence and human trafficking victims than The Shelter,” said Sheriff Kevin Rambosk.” On Oct. 11, 2016, Collier commissioners and sheriff’s officials recognized this in a memorandum of understanding, naming The Shelter as the county’s foremost service provider to meet the needs of domestic violence and human trafficking victims.
Human trafficking is a lucrative industry, representing an estimated $9.8 billion in the U.S. and $32 billion internationally. A trafficker can make up to $100,000 a year per victim, according to the U.S. Justice Department. The average victim may be forced to have sex up to 20-48 times a day.
It is important to understand that human trafficking can happen to anyone, anywhere and in any situation. In the United States, 83 percent of trafficking victims are American and 50 percent are children. The average age of a trafficking victim is 13. Victims are often unfamiliar with the culture or do not speak the language of the country they have been trafficked into. Few come forward for fear of retaliation, shame, or lack of understanding of what is happening to them.
Although the crisis of human trafficking has more recently made headlines, the problem has thrived in the shadows for many years. For too long, victims of human trafficking have been treated as criminals, facing jail time rather than receiving emergency shelter and the support they deserve. Much like the domestic violence movement of the early 1980s, today’s push to raise awareness of human trafficking will initiate the social change needed to provide victims with the services they need to heal and return to society as productive citizens.
It is important that Collier County residents learn to recognize the signs of human trafficking and do their part to report and combat this horrific crime. Be aware of and report any activity that looks suspicious to you. Most of the traffickers in the March 2015 sting were operating in broad daylight in single family neighborhoods. In addition to a high volume of traffic at a residence, individual signs of human trafficking in a victim may include:
• Victim resistant to talk to law enforcement unless given permission
• Live on or near work premises
• Restricted or controlled communication or transportation
• Frequently moved
• Large numbers of occupants for living space
• Lack of private space or personal possessions
• Limited knowledge of how to get around in a community
• Injuries from beatings or weapons
• Signs of torture
• Brands, tattoos, or scarring indicating ownership
• Signs of malnourishment
FINANCIAL – LEGAL INDICATORS
• Someone else has possession of legal or travel documents
• Lack of financial records
• Existing debt issues
• One attorney claiming to represent multiple illegal aliens detained at different locations
• Third party who insists on interpreting
LABOR CAMP SWEATSHOP INDICATORS
• Security intended to keep victims confined
• Barbed wire or bars on windows
• Self-contained camps
• Bouncers, guards or guard dogs
• Large amounts of cash
• Customer logbook or receipt book
• Sparse rooms
• Men come and go frequently
COMMERCIAL SEX INVOLVING MINORS INDICATORS
• Minors in unexplained possession of cash or extra cell phones
• Use of terminology such as “a night job”, “do a date”, “the life” or “for daddy”, especially when a minor is involved
• Drugs provided by a third party seemingly for free or in exchange for sexual activity
• Suspicious ads online or social media for escorts, stripping parties, other sexual activity
• Use of code words that may indicate prostitution activity
• Girls attempting to recruit other girls to become involved in suspicious activity with a third party male
• Job opportunity involving modeling or the sex industry
• An unreasonable promise of money or fame from a third party
There are many resources available to report human trafficking or to help victims of human trafficking:
Collier County Sheriff’s Office Human Trafficking Unit for information, resources, prevention education, or enforcement regarding human trafficking contact 239-252-0060 or email Marisol.Schloendorn@colliersheriff.org.
To report human trafficking after hours contact CCSO at 239-252-9300 and if a crime is in progress or you have an emergency call 911.
If you wish to make an anonymous tip regarding human trafficking call Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers
at 1-800-780-TIPS (8477). You may be eligible for a reward.
- National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
- National Human Trafficking Resource Center / Polaris Project
1 (888) 373-7888 or SMS: 233733 (Text “BeFree”)
24 hours, 7 days a week in English, Spanish and 200 more languages
- Project HELP is a non-profit organization staffed by professional counselors and advocates committed to providing hope, empowerment, and healing to those affected by sexual violence, sudden death, and other crimes. Along with free counseling and advocacy services, Project HELP provides our community with a 24-Hour Crisis & Referral
Hotline: (239) 262-7227.
- Coalition of Immokalee Workers – 239-657-8311