By Margaret Kavanagh on March 29, 2013—
“When it comes to human sex trafficking, many people believe it doesn’t happen where they live.
But Florida is one of the most common places for sex trafficking.
In fact, according to the state attorney general, Florida ranks third in the country when it comes to the number of complaints they received into the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s human trafficking hotline.
Amanda Fortner started as a prostitute when she was 18 years old.
Ten years later, she is working to change her life. However, through her time on the streets, she said she has seen many young victims being taken advantage of.
“Throughout the years, it pretty much destroyed any ounce of humanity that was inside me,” Fortner said. “I’ve been beat. I’ve been robbed. I’ve been raped. I’ve been tortured, tied up. I mean, terror that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.”
Victimized by the sex industry herself, Fortner said she has seen too many girls trapped in a world fueled by drugs, sex and control.
Many of the victims are teenagers when they first enter.
“They’re the easiest ones to catch,” Fortner said. “They are runaways and they want attention. They scoop up these girls with stupid promises and make them work all night long and give them one oxycotin and that is their payment.”
At times, expert said they are held against their will.
Fortner said she could leave whenever she wanted, but was afraid to leave.
Sue Aboul-Hosn, a representative with the Department of Children and Families, works closely with many of the victims in Central Florida.
“It’s everywhere all around you. You know, it’s not just lower socio-economic groups. We’ve seen it everywhere and it’s a problem,” Aboul-Hosn said.
Experts said Orange Blossom Trial is known as a haven for this type of activity in Orlando, along with parts of International Drive.
Unfortunately, they said with tourism comes a lot of this type of criminal behavior.
“These pimps travel into these areas where there is business so we are a big tourism industry for people to come and go and the weather and different things,” Aboul-Hosn said. “I think that is part of it. But there is no magic reason why it’s in Florida. It’s everywhere.”
Fortner said she would think, “‘OK who am I going to have to sell my soul to today to continue to have a place to live.’ It’s not like you can just jump out of it and grab a new job.”
But that’s exactly what she is doing now.
Looking to the future, putting the past behind her, and hoping to help others.
According to the state attorney general, “National Human Trafficking Resource Center, there are 27 million people enslaved worldwide… Victims of human trafficking include children, women and men who are subjected through force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor.”
Attorney General Pam Bondi has worked to make Florida a zero-tolerance state for human trafficking. During the 2012 legislative session, she joined Sen. Flores and Rep. Snyder to advocate legislation that cracks down on human trafficking.
The Department of Children and Families is working on creating a safe harbor home for the underage victims in the community.
They said many of the people involved are foster children who don’t concern themselves victims.”
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