A record number of people are moving to Florida, adding new neighbors every day. In fact, in 2022, more people moved to Florida than to any other state.
They’re coming for the weather, quality public education in many areas, and the lack of income taxes. But there’s a shadow that falls over all of that sunshine.
Florida is number three in our nation for human trafficking cases, and this impacts every one of us.
Our sporting events, hotels, convenience stores, and city streets are not safe for everyone. The most vulnerable among us are at risk of entering this dehumanizing system, whether as a survivor providing forced labor or sex acts, or as a broken participant who needs his or her own path to healing.
That’s why our vision goes beyond helping individual survivors to “rethread” their lives. Together, with our whole community behind us, we want to “rethread” Jacksonville, and the whole state.
If we work together to create an environment where injustice in any form cannot thrive, then we’re giving our children, friends, and neighbors a safer city to live in, free of the shadow of human trafficking.
What’s happening today in Jacksonville
When you take your family to a football game, stop at a convenience store to grab a snack and fill up the tank, or stay in a hotel, do you ever suspect that something more may be happening there than meets the eye?
The truth is that human trafficking is happening here in Jacksonville. Particularly along I-95, at the JTB and Baymeadows interchanges, traffickers are operating mostly undetected.
That’s why our city’s recent code updates now require convenience stores, gas stations, and public lodging establishments to post signs with information about what to look for and how to report possible trafficking.
Additionally, employees at these types of businesses must be trained on how to spot and report human trafficking.
This is evidence of a growing awareness that the responsibility for addressing these concerns falls on all of us. It isn’t just the job of the police or special task forces. We are all responsible for looking out for the safety and well-being of others.
When we accept that responsibility, and become guardians for justice in the places where we live and work, our entire community benefits.
More can be done to make our city a safer place to live, work, and visit
We are thankful for the work Jacksonville has already done to be a safer place for everyone, but more can be done.
We can learn a lot from the city of Houston, for instance, which received a presidential award in 2018 for its trailblazing steps to end trafficking. Houston invited representatives from 18 other American cities to take part in a fellowship, during which they shared research and best practices.
This fact sheet summarizes their ideas and successes, which Jacksonville, and our neighboring cities, can consider following. Here are a few major takeaways:
- Public health and social welfare employees, like hospital staff, first responders, public school teachers, childcare workers, and others, receive training to spot and respond to human trafficking. In the same way these professionals have been empowered to respond to child abuse, equipping them with more information makes the even more effective in the fight against trafficking.
- Neighborhood-specific planning, prioritizing higher-risk areas of the city for outreach and public information campaigns.
- Build capacity for at-risk youth programs, creating a social safety net for adolescents who are justice-involved, in the foster care system, or struggling with relationships at home.
- Consider record relief or expungement for victims of trafficking with prostitution or other charges for crimes committed under force.
- Collaborate with faith-based, community, business, and government agencies to train shelter and community outreach services on human trafficking signs, responses, and rehabilitation.
- Create more services to rehabilitate survivors and assist vulnerable populations in receiving preventative care, which keeps them out of trafficking relationships.
This list is just scratching the surface, but we’re dedicated to working alongside like-minded neighbors and organizations to raise awareness that more can be done to eradicate this injustice from our city.
We all benefit from a safer, more just environment
Our dream is that Jacksonville will one day be a place where all vulnerable neighbors, whether adolescents in the foster care system, adults in shelter populations, people leaving incarceration, individuals struggling with mental health issues or addiction, or lonely adults seeking comfort in the wrong places, would have a safe and grace-filled service to turn to.
We hope and aspire for a home city where trafficking survivors will not be prosecuted, or afraid of prosecution, because they have committed crimes under duress.
We want to work together to create a place where men and women purchasing services from trafficked individuals would both be held accountable legally and rehabilitated for the brokenness that has brought them to support this system.
When, and not if, we succeed, the hundreds of days of sunshine a year, safe neighborhoods and good schools, and beautiful beaches and parks will be unclouded benefits everyone can enjoy. From your own family to the stranger staying in the hotel down the hall, when one of us flourishes, we all flourish.