Human Trafficking Awareness Month

No $ale: Eliminating human trafficking starts with you

By Kylie Cordell For Clay Today
Posted 1/18/23

ORANGE PARK – The United States is one of the largest contributors of human trafficking in the world.

Approximately 800,000 victims are trafficked out of the country every year. More than 300,00 …

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Human Trafficking Awareness Month

No $ale: Eliminating human trafficking starts with you


ORANGE PARK – The United States is one of the largest contributors of human trafficking in the world.

Approximately 800,000 victims are trafficked out of the country every year. More than 300,00 American children are at risk of sexual exploitation each year. Every 30 seconds, a child is sold.

U.S. law defines human trafficking as the use of force, fraud or coercion to compel a person into commercial sex acts or labor or services against his or her will. It is a billion-dollar industry, only second to the drug trade.

“For so long, we thought it was in other countries. It’s all around us. It’s right here,” said Brenda Harris, the Director of Hope Is Restored, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the statewide effort to end human trafficking.

In 2020, 164,839 victims of human trafficking were identified by the Human Trafficking hotline. Nearly 740 confirmed cases of human trafficking were reported in Florida in the same year, which is only the tip of the iceberg.

"Florida is the third largest hub for human trafficking in the United States. The reason why is one, we're surrounded by water. And two, it's a high tourist area," Harris said.

Of these cases, 28% of the trafficked individuals were minors, and 85% were women. The average age used in the commercial sex trade industry is 11-14 years. And the numbers only account for reported cases. The total number varies wildly as it is very difficult to research.

"I asked myself, how can we live in the home of the free when so many are trapped in modern-day slavery today?" said Founder and Executive Director Erica Smith.

After attending a conference on Human Trafficking in 2018, Smith wanted to make people more aware of the atrocity happening in their community.

"Fast forward, I started working with several different organizations and doing what I could locally to spread awareness. Finally, in 2020, I dreamt about Hope Is Restored, and here we are," Smith said.

Located on 151 College Dr., Suites 1-2, Hope is Restored seeks to educate and empower communities to spread awareness about human trafficking and end modern-day slavery, as well as restore hope to those rescued from the atrocity of human trafficking. Since its inception, they have educated more than 1,000 people about human trafficking.

"Education is such a critical part of winning this fight. Our citizens need to know what human trafficking is, how individuals are snared into it, and what they can do," she said. "It's something that's been in plain sight, but people just didn't know what to look for. But we're finally able to share awareness and educate people about this issue. Now we're all seeing how great the need is."

By raising awareness and providing training, lives are saved.

"We also assist in the rescues of survivors. We house them and work towards restoration," Harris said. Only 1% of victims of human trafficking get rescued, she said.

"One of our victims, she managed to get away from her abuser, and we found her in a cemetery," said Smith.

The young woman found Hope Is Restored on Facebook from five states away. She was malnourished and had many medical needs.

"When our person could get to her, we started calling local shelters, but there was no room. We realized very quickly that if she were going to get somewhere safe, it would be us,” Smith said. “We had to do it."

In 2020, Hope is Restored is Clay County's only safe haven for victims of human trafficking, as well as an educational resource. "We commit to two years of restoration. During that time, we are equipping them to become independent. We work with some of our sister organizations to work towards that next step," Harris said.

"The resources in our part of the journey are often medical needs, trauma counseling, and other resources like Mercy Support Services become critical after they get out. All of us are growing together. It's a group effort."

So what is being done in our community to address this issue?

Hope is Restored announced a partnership with local government agencies and the Clay County Sheriff's Office.

"Our most recent rescue has been trafficked since she was 5 years old. It was at a massage parlor on Kingsley Avenue operating as a brothel. We worked with the Clay County Sherrif's Office to get her out and to a safe space," she said.

They will also be working with officers to address victims in times of crisis, as well as plans to "tighten up" the charges of child sexual exploitation. Sheriff Cook says "loopholes" in the law allow sexual predators to escape their charges.

Furthermore, Hope is Restored is working with the Clerk of Court’s office in conjunction with the Florida Alliance to End Human Trafficking to create an "awareness event" open to the public.

The Human Trafficking Awareness Month and The Spot the Signs Forum will be held on Jan. 20th from 9 a.m. to noon. at the Clerk’s Office in Green Cove Springs. Attendance is limited to the first 100 people.

"Everyone has to do their part. Our call to action as everyday citizens is to become educated and become aware of this issue," Harris said.

Harris said we also must report any suspicious behavior.

"The young woman told us that she didn't understand how no one was aware that she was in trouble. Many times, they are not well kept. They miss school. They're hungry. It's obvious that they are in a crisis situation,” Harris said.

To report an occurrence or suspicion of human trafficking, contact local law enforcement, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's human trafficking number at 1(800) 342-0820 or the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1(888) 373-7888.

For more information about Hope is Restored, call Smith at (904) 413-1005 or visit their web page,, for a list of contacts, to get involved or to become a sponsor or volunteer.

“We need all the help we can get,” Harris said. “We have to help them with everything you can imagine – everything that a person needs, and at the same time, we’re trying to keep the lights on. We’re all volunteering, There’s no salary being drawn, so we need resources to help our victims.”


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