ORLANDO, Fla. — More than 700 cases of human trafficking were reported in 2020, according to data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
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Three people were arrested in Wednesday, accused of trafficking teenagers for sex at multiple locations throughout Orange County last year.
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According to the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation, one of the victims was “groomed,” saying at one point she even attended a family reunion with one of the suspects.
As we reflect on the love in our lives, take a moment to listen to these survivors share their stories of how love was used to manipulate them by their traffickers. Learn what #humantrafficking is & #LoveIsnt directly from survivors at https://t.co/Z2UPpF3tW2. pic.twitter.com/bi5WkMTF5c— Polaris (@Polaris_Project) February 15, 2022
Tomas Lares is the founder and President of United Abolitionists, a non-profit organization that’s fighting human trafficking. Lares says the scenario described by MBI is more common than many people realize.
“That’s very typical, that they groom them,” Lares said. “The majority of trafficking victims we see here in Central Florida are not abducted, are not kidnapped...they’re lured. These criminals build relationships with them.”
MBI says that’s exactly what happened in the case of Tracy Koger, Shana Bryant, and Tyrell Ponds, who investigators say trafficked three underage girls in Orange County for sex.
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According to a report from MBI, one of the teens said she ran away from a group home in Polk County and began hanging out with Koger, even attending a family reunion with her at one point.
It was only when one of the victims ended up in the hospital after a confrontation with one of the suspects that deputies began to piece together what was happening.
“They target someone looking for friends, looking for a boyfriend, looking for a group to belong to,” Lares said. “We’ve even heard of incidents where they’re going to youth groups and churches.”
Investigators say the suspects frequented certain motels in the area.
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According to MBI, they’re currently working with the motels to train employees on ways to spot suspected sex trafficking. A law passed in 2019 requires training for certain employees.
To find more resources for victims of human trafficking, click here.
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