Central Fla. task force created to stop human trafficking

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ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. —

Orange County announced the creation of a task force aimed at stopping human trafficking in central Florida.

Community leaders gathered at the Orange County courthouse Monday to unveil their plans.

Some of the victims lured or taken by trafficking groups and forced into prostitution are as young as 12 years old, officials said.

Officials said most of the victims are children.

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, officials from the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Children and Families announced a new effort to help the victims and keep other kids from ending up as what officials are calling "modern-day slaves."

The new group is known as the Greater Orlando Human Trafficking Task Force.

Channel 9's Mark Joyella talked to the group's leaders.

"Many of them are just lured. Maybe they're having a hard time with their families, or they're in the foster care system," said task force Chairman Tomas Lares. "Again, that trauma, being at risk, makes them more vulnerable. 'You're beautiful, you could be a model, you just have to take pictures,' and it leads to horrific things."

Authorities said just within a few months, about 125 adults and children in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties have been confirmed victims of human trafficking.

Demings said traffickers setting up shop in motels, offering kids as young as 12 for sale.

"Some, when they come here, look for that type of service, and that's why we have a bigger problem here in Orlando," said Larry Zweig, director of the MBI.

Law enforcement and social services will work together to draw attention to the problem of human trafficking in central Florida, and find ways to help the victims, task force officials said.

"There are issues that are too big for any one group to handle," said Lares.

Earlier this year, Eyewitness News rode with undercover agents working to break up a trafficking ring.

An online posting for an escort led agents to a motel on South Orange Blossom Trail, where they arrested a pregnant 19-year-old working as a prostitute.

Agents said traffickers set up in shop in central Florida where tourism brings in plenty of potential customers willing to pay money for underage girls like Kathy, who was 11 when she was sold to sex traffickers before being rescued by the FBI.

"I could have been a sex slave for money and put out there like hot meat," Kathy said.

Kathy was sold into slavery; other victims are targeted by traffickers who seek out kids already disconnected from family and friends.

One of the task force's first objectives will be opening shelters for trafficking victims.

The task force hopes to have three modular homes open within the next four months – simple, safe places where victims can recover.

MBI is adding three more full-time agents to hunt down traffickers and victims, bringing the total number of agents to seven.