‘It can happen to anyone’: Advocates, officials make statement against human trafficking

It’s called “the Red Sand Project.”

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By pouring red sand onto the ground, advocates make a statement about those falling through the cracks and becoming victims of human trafficking in Florida and beyond.

“The approach is symbolic, with grains of sand representing the forgotten individuals who fall through the cracks,” said Mikala Klein, co-chair of the Central Florida Human Trafficking Task Force. “Our mission is to prevent, reduce, and ultimately eliminate human trafficking.”

As National Human Trafficking Prevention Month comes to an end, nonprofit organizations, survivors, elected officials, and law enforcement came together to mark the day on Saturday.

Read: Attorney General Ashley Moody announces new efforts to help survivors of human trafficking

People of all ages showed up in support of the event, but the cause is even more important to Olivia Littleton.

“I met almost every single man that hurt me through a website or an app,” said Littleton, who’s a survivor and member of the ‘One More Child’ organization in Central Florida. “Between the ages of 19 and 22, I was abused by a man who was 15 years older than me, who I met on a dating app.”

According to the state’s Children and Family Department, just last year, there were more than 2,000 reports of human trafficking in Florida alone, which makes the state the third in the nation with the highest number of cases.

Read: Valencia College hosts annual ‘Human Trafficking Awareness’ conference

“As a father of a 12-year-old girl, I have to be proactive,” said OPD Deputy Chief Chad Ochiuzzo. “This will prevent human trafficking and other sex-related offenses in the future.”

As law enforcement continues to work on human trafficking prevention, multiple organizations work year-round, offering anything from support to survivors and their families to mental health services and media literacy programs. “Talk to your kids. We didn’t grow up with smartphones,” said Jan Edwards, CEO of ‘Paving the Way Foundation.’ “This is where predators are finding our children.”

If you or someone you know needs help, you can text 233-733. That’s the National Human Trafficking Prevention Hotline. You can also reach out to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement TIP Line at 1.855.FLA.SAFE (352.7233).

For other resources:

One More Child (Direct Service) – 321-693-6956 (24/7 hotline) | onemorechild.org

United Abolitionists – 407-495-5846 | stophumantrafficking.com

Central Florida CrimeLine – 407-254-TIPS (8477) | cfcrimeline.com

Victim Service Center – 407-254-9415 – victimservicecenter.org

Covenant House – 407-482-0404 | covenanthousefl.org

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