Local leaders spread red sand outside Hillsborough County courthouse for human trafficking victims

Hillsborough County and Tampa leaders brought attention to human trafficking by spreading red sand outside the courthouse. Leaders said they might be tiny grains of sand, but they hope to make a big statement against sex trafficking. 

"The red sand represents all of the men and women who have slipped through the cracks," said Marriane Thomas, who was trafficked for 17 years from age 15-32.

She said the biggest awareness problem is, people have the wrong idea of what trafficking looks like. 

"Human trafficking doesn’t look like the movies and how they portray it," she said. "What it really looks like is someone who befriends your child. Someone who comes alongside them and acts as if they are a friend, or a boyfriend or a girlfriend."

READ: 18 arrested in undercover human trafficking operation in Hillsborough County

The United Nations said worldwide, more than 40 million people are still the victims of trafficking. 

"Each one of them – 40.3 million," said Corporal Alan Wikett, a retired investigator. "And yet each one of them have dreams and hopes and aspirations."

MORE: Teacher, pastor among Hillsborough human trafficking sting arrests

Florida ranks third in the nation in reported cases, behind only California and Texas. Thomas said to make a change, we have to make sure we are that safe person.

"Making sure that if a child is struggling, they have someone they can talk to," she said. "So whether it’s your child, a neighbor’s kid, Sunday school. Always being a safe person for children to talk to.