TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) —State and county leaders are working to protect human trafficking victims, prevent trafficking and prosecute traffickers.
Attorney General Ashley Moody announced the 2023 Human Trafficking Summit, which offers free legal session, education, and awareness.
“It brings together survivors, law-enforcement, prosecutors, victim, advocates community leaders, and concern citizens who have come together, committed to combating human trafficking,” said Moody.
The summit offers virtual education sessions to fight and end human trafficking. Part of this widespread issue is traffickers preying on young, vulnerable girls, according to Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister.
“As this crime evolves, there are always seeking new avenues to create more victims and another avenue that we’ve seen that’s being created is when young impressionable women that are 18 years old age out of the foster system and they don’t know where to turn next,” said Chronister.
Attorney Valentina Villalobos sees this firsthand. She has represented kids and parents within Florida’s foster care system for more than a decade.
“Most of these kids probably the state thinks they’re saving them from a bad situation, but I’d say a lot of them are put into worse situation once there,” said Villalobos.
Villalobos currently represents two foster girls out of Brevard County, who were removed from their homes by the state and placed into a group home. Villalobos said her clients were not provided basic necessities of food or hygiene and described the conditions as deplorable.
“They would leave that with these grown men who would an exchange for these basic necessities that they didn’t have, they would have sex with them and sure enough one ended up pregnant,” said Villalobos.
Villalobos said it’s no secret that human trafficking is widespread throughout Florida’s child welfare system.
“I know DCF as part of our council is focusing very hard on children that are not only officially within the DCF system or the foster care system but also at-risk children,” said Moody.
Sheriff Chronister has this message: “We’re going to educate you, we’re going to rehabilitate you, we’re going to do everything we can to help you if you’re a victim of a crime but if you’re that person that’s out there saying ‘Hey, listen I’m going to traffic a human being strictly for profit purposes it will not work here in Hillsborough County.”