Human trafficking is a crime that reaches a broad spectrum of victims -- teenage runaways, the homeless, undocumented workers and even "kids who hang out at the mall every day," Mike Carroll, interim secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families said Monday at the first meeting of the Statewide Council on Human Trafficking.
Many victims are also foster care kids who are under state care or have aged out of the state system and have no where to go, Carroll, the council's vice chair, said.
Florida has been ranked third in the number of calls received by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, which estimates there are 27 million people enslaved worldwide.
"Four years ago, no one wanted to believe this existed," said Attorney General Pam Bondi, who has reached out to truckers, emergency medical workers, business owners, law enforcement and recently Mexican authorities to fight human trafficking. "It has to be stopped."
Now, Bondi, is also counting on a new panel with law enforcement, health care officials, educators, advocates and experts to fight the crime. The 15-member trafficking council, which Bondi chairs, was created during the 2014 legislative session to tackle specific goals in the human trafficking realm, including recommending programs and services to help victims; certifying safe houses and safe foster care homes; recommending ways to better apprehend and prosecute traffickers; and organizing a statewide summit.