LAKELAND (FOX 13) - Polk county detectives arrested more than 100 people in a human trafficking and prostitution sting, Sheriff Grady Judd announced Monday. More than half of those taken into custody were sex workers, and often times the victims of human trafficking and prostitution who fell into sex work via force or fraud.
To detectives who investigate human trafficking, it’s a broad term that includes involuntary servitude, forced labor and sex trafficking.
Knowing the difference between sex trafficking and prostitution can get confusing, said Christa Hicks, the executive director of anti-trafficking at One More Child, an organization that helps victims of human trafficking.
“Because it’s intermingled and so messy, we just need the community to understand that when you see a woman and she’s in prostitution, you very likely are seeing someone who was first or currently a victim of sex trafficking,” said Hicks.
Sex trafficking involves using force or manipulation to get someone to perform a sexual act for a commercial purpose. Some of the women arrested in Monday’s human trafficking bust in Polk County are potential sex trafficking victims, according to the sheriff’s office.
“Where it comes in that, it becomes trafficking and not consensual is when you’re being coerced, tricked, frauded or physically forced,” said Hicks.
Law enforcement works with victim advocacy agencies during stings to let victims know there is help available no matter where they are.
Corporal Alan Wilkett investigates trafficking cases in Pasco County, he says detectives have to do more to get to the source of what’s going on.
“There are sometimes it’s absolutely a crime. The crime of prostitution or soliciting prostitution, the arrest is made, let’s go to jail. But in many cases, we’re now starting to see these are manipulated or coerced, forced women and men,” said Wilkett.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office is working with One More Child to offer services to the potential victims of sex trafficking, and there were three identified in the operation.
Victim advocates said they hope to continue to break down barriers surrounding sex trafficking.
One More Child serves nine counties in Florida as part of a larger outreach