Event held at Lake Eola to raise human trafficking awareness

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ORLANDO, Fla. - Officials, activists and survivors gathered at Lake Eola on Saturday to raise awareness about human trafficking, a disturbing crime that has plagued central Florida.

Organizers held the sixth annual Human Trafficking Awareness Day event on Saturday, where survivors spoke about being a victim of human trafficking.

"I was 13 when I first became involved in human trafficking," said Octavis, who didn't want to give her last name.

Now a grown mother, Octavis told her survival story to a large crowd at the Lake Eola Park event.

"I was groomed, manipulated and mentally incapacitated," Octavis said.

According to officials, victims of human trafficking are being found and rescued every week in central Florida.

"It's getting better because we're raising awareness," Kim Grabert with the Department of Children and Families said.

Saturday's event, which was hosted by WFTV's Vanessa Welch and Tim Barber, was aimed at spreading awareness about the issue. In 2013, there were 940 reports of human trafficking to Florida's abuse hotline and officials said many of the victims were children and teens. DCF helps find a safe haven for the victims.

"Instead of arresting them and being delinquent, they can come to the department and we can provide service for them," Grabert said.

The metro Orlando area has become a hot spot for sex slavery and human trafficking.

"We look on the Internet for the girls that are very young and that's how we've been successful in finding juveniles being trafficked," Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation director Larry Zwieg said.

Zwieg said MBI is continuously working to arrest criminals involved in human trafficking. The agency recently wrapped up an operation where 29 men were arrested for soliciting sex from undercover agents.

"This time we wanted to have an effect on the demand side," Zwieg said.

Authorities hope by cutting down the demand for prostitution, they can slow the growing trend of human trafficking in central Florida.