Human Trafficking Victims: Hidden in Plain Sight

“I would ask my teachers for detention so that I wouldn’t have to go home right after school,”
said Savannah Pavu. Savannah was just 11 years old the first time her mother sold her for $10
worth of crack. For three years, Savannah was continually sold in Central Florida hotels for sex.
The hotel staff kept quiet, medical providers ignored her broken bones and teachers never asked
questions. Savannah went into foster care 3 years later, where she thought she might finally be
safe. The staff at the facility were friends with her mother’s drug dealer and continued to sell her
for drugs.

In 2019, several Chinese women were identified as the victims of a multi county human
trafficking ring. The women were brought to the U.S. under the promise of legitimate jobs, but
were taken to massage parlors in Orlando, the Treasure Coast and Palm Beach County and
forced into prostitution.

While these two stories may seem to have little in common, people, including small children, are
being sold for sex and labor in plain sight. These transactions occur at places like hotels,
restaurants, strip malls and massage parlors and often go unnoticed.

WHAT IS HUMAN TRAFFICKING & WHO IS A VICTIM?

Fundamentally, human trafficking is a crime that involves compelling or coercing a person to
provide labor, services, or to engage in commercial sex acts. The coercion can be subtle or overt,
physical or psychological. Exploitation of a minor for commercial sex is trafficking regardless of
whether any form of force or fraud was used.

Whether an 11-year-old American girl or a Chinese national, there is no single profile for a
trafficking victim. They can be anyone regardless of race, color, national origin, age, gender,
gender identity, disability, or socioeconomic status. However, human traffickers tend to prey on
the most vulnerable and marginalized members of community. Immigrants without lawful status,
the poor, and children, especially those involved in the dependency or juvenile justice systems,
are those most frequently exploited. Victims of forced labor work in both legal and illegal labor
industries. The exploitation of commercial sex happens in contexts ranging from streets to escort
services and online advertising.

WHO ARE THE TRAFFICKERS?

Traffickers are as diverse as survivors and there is no one type. They can be foreign nationals,
U.S. Citizens, family members, parents, partners, strangers, men or women. Some use their
privilege, power and wealth to control victims. They come from a variety of socioeconomic
backgrounds and have been identified as business owners, diplomats, gang members or even
government representatives. Traffickers employ many different tactics to impose control over
their victims. They commonly use physical, emotional and economic abuse, threats, isolation,
and false promises aimed at their target’s needs.

WHERE DOES TRAFFICKING OCCUR?

Trafficking situations occur globally and across the United States. Trafficking is especially
prevalent in Florida. According to Florida Alliance to End Human Trafficking, Florida ranks as
the third highest state for human trafficking cases and second for labor trafficking specifically. In
Florida, the average age a child enters the commercial sex trade is 11 to 13 years old with as
many 300,000 American children are at risk for sexual trafficking and exploitation annually.
Despite these staggering statistics, it is suspected that many cases go unreported. As a child
victim, Savannah Parvu didn’t understand she was trafficked until almost 10 years ago, when she
began seeing a therapist. She is now 36 years old and shares her stories with others including
girls at juvenile detention centers and many come to the same realization after hearing her speak.
Human trafficking takes many forms and has many faces. If you or someone you know is a
victim of human trafficking, you can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-
7888 or text 233733.

Resources

Rangel, Isadora, “When Human Trafficking Victims Live Right Under Our Noses, How Can We
Stop It,” Florida Today [Brevard County, Florida] March 6, 2019.
Rogers, Eric, “Report: Suspected Sex Trafficking Victime Gave Police look at life inside Vero
Beach Spa” Treasure Coast Newspaper [Port St. Lucie, Florida] May 1, 2019.
U.S. Department of Justice, “What is Human Trafficking” Updated June 26, 2023.
Florida Department of Education, Child Human Trafficking Flyer.
Human Trafficking in Florida: Facts, Statistics, Shelters and Prevention Organizations.

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