Homeland Security on Human Trafficking: “A victim can be anybody - WMBB News 13 - The Panhandle's News Leader

Homeland Security on Human Trafficking: “A victim can be anybody”

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Human trafficking; it's called "modern day slavery" and it's quickly becoming the number one organized crime on the planet.

But, it's not reserved for third world countries; in fact, it's happening right here at home in plain sight.

January is Human Trafficking Awareness month and already organizations are working to spread the word about this crime that doesn't discriminate when claiming its latest victim.

27 million: that's the number of people enslaved world wide. 2.5 million victims are located right here in the US; forced into prostitution, pornography, servitude and involuntary labor.

It's an issue that's seen more spotlight lately, most recently at the 2013 Passion Conference in Atlanta; a packed stadium of thousands responding to cries for revolution.

On the front lines is the Department of Homeland Security, debunking the myth that slavery doesn't happen here at home.

"A victim can be anybody. It can be a US citizen; it can be a foreign national. It can be a male, it can be a female, it can be someone old, someone young...it doesn't matter," said Homeland Security Resident Agent, Scott Springer.

But what does matter, according to Springer, is that the victims are found.

"Our number one goal is to rescue the victim," said Springer.

But Springer says law enforcement cannot work alone and it's truly takes a village of advocates working to gather and share intelligence.

This is where the Northwest Florida Human Trafficking Coalition comes in.

"It's some pretty horrific things and it's happening in our own back yard," said Coalition Chairman Glen Eckhardt

Eckhardt said they were formed as a community partnership to meet the needs of the victim and the prosecution. In the last two months alone, they've rescued 9 children from forced labor in the Panhandle.

"Most of them look like the average middle class child. They were just like my own kids," said Eckhardt.

And there's more.

"We've had one young lady who's husband sold her for the purposes of getting drugs, we've also had a young man who was a runaway down at the beach here in Panama City was recruited and sold as a sex slave in Miami," said Eckhardt.

It's these stories that keep their focus set on putting an end to these heinous crimes; from the shores of foreign countries, to the sands of Panama City Beach.

There is a way to help victims by calling the ICE Hotline at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or visit www.ICE.gov/tips.