Central Florida is known for its booming tourism market and thriving work industries, but a silent enslaved population of human-trafficking victims hides among the millions of people that travel throughout the region.

In 2021, the hotline received more than 2,800 calls connected to Florida and 781 cases of human trafficking were identified in the state — making it the third highest state in the nation. More than 2,250 victims were involved in these cases.

In 2016, Orlando ranked third in the nation for cities with the highest number of calls per capita related to human trafficking, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

“We host a lot of conferences and high-profile events that draw a lot of people into the state and to Central Florida,” says Jeffrey Goltz ’06PhD, executive dean of Valencia College’s School of Public Safety and UCF public affairs alum. “Unfortunately, when you have those big events that drives the demand for sex trafficking.”

But the problem is much bigger than Orlando or Florida. An estimated 25 million human trafficking victims across the globe generate $150 billion annually for their captors, according to the International Labour Organization.

Goltz teamed up with UCF Professor of Criminal Justice Roberto Potter and 18 other experts in the field to write Human Trafficking: A Systemwide Public Safety and Community Approach. The textbook provides a practical victim-centered approach to dealing with the issue that differs from the standard theoretical approach of the past.

“This isn’t one of those crimes where you get the victim through the trial,” Potter says. “You get the conviction against the person who victimized them and then basically say, ‘Thank you. Goodbye.’ What these folks really do need is long-term support. It may even be lifetime because for many of them one of the ways they were controlled was through the use of chemicals.”

How Someone Becomes a Trafficking Victim

In the book, Potter, Goltz and the other authors cover how human-trafficking cases unfold from tip to trial and discuss topics such as how trafficking happens, health care professionals’ role in reporting trafficking and prevention.

Traffickers enslave their victims through fraud, force or coercion. False promises to provide safety and a better life, physical restraints, threatening to harm loved ones and blackmail are just a few ways these methods are used.

“The trafficker looks for vulnerable victims,” Goltz says. “Runaways, young people that come from poor family situations where there may be some violence in the family, are a lot of them. Because they promise the victim everything.”

Types of Trafficking

Once a trafficker gains control of a person they can force them to engage in sex trafficking, which accounts for the commercial exploitation of 4.8 million people,  or labor trafficking, which occurs when a person provides goods or services without proper compensation.

“You see trafficking in construction and other industries where basically (employers) enslave these people by charging them more to house, feed and transport them than they make so that the victims can never really get away from their trafficker,” Potter says. “We see people in the migrant industries around agriculture and in the restaurant industry that go through this too,” Potter says.

Trafficking’s Connection to Drugs

Human trafficking is the second-most lucrative criminal business in the world, with drug trafficking making the most profit. The large sum of money generated from human trafficking comes from the ability to sell a person over and over again to perform a service, whereas crimes such as drug trafficking only allow criminals to collect a profit once off of their product.

Drugs also play a role in how people become and stay victims of trafficking. Often a trafficker will promise to supply their victims with drugs, as well as food, shelter and luxury items, in order to gain their trust and reliance. Victims are fed drugs in order to make them mentally weak and prevent them from escaping.

Signs of Trafficking

Healthcare professionals are one of the few people a trafficking victim might come in contact with that can become aware of their situation and get them help.

“When people come in with these interesting, particularly genital, injuries or STDs, health care professionals try running a series of questions by them to see if there’s a trigger there that law enforcement or social services need to be called, but also keep in mind the victim is often very closely accompanied by their trafficker,” Potter says.

Goltz emphasizes the need for healthcare professionals to be properly trained to look for signs such as brandings, tattoos and lack of ID on them, that indicate someone might be trafficked.

What Happens Once Victims Are Found

Discovering a human trafficking victim is only half the battle. Gaining an enslaved person’s trust, prosecuting their captor and rehabilitating the victim are the real challenges law enforcement faces when dealing with these crimes.

It can be extremely difficult for police to get a victim to come forward or to provide information about their captor because their experiences with being trafficked often destroy their ability to trust others, especially authority figures.

“Another one of the biggest challenges with prosecuting these cases happens because victims and suspects, the traffickers, cross into different jurisdictions all the time,” Goltz says. “You know, somebody can be trafficked across county lines, state lines and even internationally. That’s why all the prosecution teams have to work with each other to bring successful prosecution to these traffickers.”

Prevention and Changing the Approach to Trafficking Cases

While law enforcement is a long way away from solving the millions of cases of human trafficking around the world, Potter says it is crucial for police, prosecutors and the average person to change the way they look at trafficking victims in order to address the issue.

The Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation, which handles cases in Orange and Osceola Counties, is one local organization that already is doing this by embedding a unit of social workers that go out with law enforcement on calls for human-trafficking cases.

Ultimately practicing adequate prevention methods is the only way to stop more and more cases of human trafficking from happening.

“I really do go back to family and good human relations, education and sex education, a sexual ethics that talks about respecting other people,” Potter says. “Morality is a key here–strong moral values reduce crime. The idea that anybody can make money or control other people really is a concept that we have to somehow make so difficult for anybody to think that’s acceptable.”