April 14, 2011 by Julie Montanaro
Florida ranks third in the nation for human trafficking and Tallahassee was the scene of one of the Sunshine State's most dubious cases.
Today deputies, nurses and counselors got a real eye-opener in Trafficking 101.
The women who ecsaped from this home in Killearn blew the lid off a Guatemala to Tallahassee prostitution ring. Federal investigators say Jorge Melchor and others smuggled the women into the country with the lure of jobs and then forced them into prostitution.
Arrest papers say they were forced to sleep with as many as a dozen men a night to pay off their $15,000 passage.
"The whole state of Florida has a high incidence, both of sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Florida is seen as number three in the nation," said Robin Thompson, Senior Program Director for FSU's Center for the Advancement of Human Rights.
Trafficking, for sex or labor , is one of the fastest growing crimes in the sunshine state and Thursday, nurses, cops and counselors gathered at the Leon County Health department to learn what to look for and how to help.
"We have two we're working with right now in Tallahassee and they don't speak English," one participant said as she asked about the availability of interpreters.
Among the telltale signs of trafficking: Is the person free to come and go? to call home? do they have access to their own passport or documents? do they appear to be fearful? even bruised?
One of the first lessons in Trafficking 101, its victims aren't just immigrants, they're often homegrown runaways.
"They're prime targets for predators and people out there who are looking to take advantage of a child," said Melanie Carty with Capital City Youth Services.
Melchor is in the midst of an 8 year prison sentence for his role in human trafficking. One of his bosses is doing 20 years. Yet the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking says there are very few stats on this crime and no central data base to track them.
The coalition tries to keep tabs on the cases being prosecuted in Florida and lists 19 so far. It also documents another 13 cases in which victims were discovered, but perpetrators were never prosecuted.