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In 2016, case workers from Lakeland-based One More Child began working with Jessica, a sex-trafficking victim who was 15 at the time, but was first victimized when she was 10 years old by her own mother.

This month, Jessica will receive her diploma from the University of South Florida in social work, and will help children like her know that they can survive and even succeed.

“For seven years, we have been walking along beside this child,” said Jodi Domangue, executive director of One More Child’s anti-trafficking division. Domangue said they have poured “a lot of resources, time and love” into Jessica’s recovery.

Domangue shared Jessica’s story on Tuesday as part of a roundtable discussion on human trafficking, hosted by U.S. Rep. Scott Franklin, R-Lakeland, at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. In attendance were more than 50 people who have devoted their lives to rescuing human trafficking victims, whether it’s from forced labor or sex work.

In addition to Domangue, Franklin, and Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, those at the half-day conference included Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Mark Glass, Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Eric Hall, Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge John Condon, and Circuit 10 State Attorney Brian Haas.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, U.S. Rep. Scott Franklin, and Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody. | Kimberly C. Moore, LkldNow

Franklin vying for funds

Franklin said he has now been trained to spot victims of sex trafficking and is keeping an eye out in airports as he flies back and forth from Florida to Washington, D.C. Some of those signs include:

  • Is the person disoriented or confused, or showing signs of mental or physical abuse?
  • Does the person have bruises in various stages of healing?
  • Is the person fearful, timid, or submissive?
  • Does the person show signs of having been denied food, water, sleep, or medical care?
  • Is the person often in the company of someone to whom he or she defers? Or someone who seems to be in control of where they go or who they talk to?

“This is happening under our noses all day long. Until recently, I was just a constituent citizen of Polk County – I was unaware of the scope of the problem,” Franklin said. “At the federal level, what I run into a lot of time is the confusion, ‘Is this a federal level, or a state problem?’”


Statewide Hotline to report suspicious activity anonymously

Franklin, who is a member of the U.S. House Human Trafficking Caucus, has requested $1.8 million from Congress to expand access to an online system that connects trafficked persons to vetted service providers and informs first responders of available resources for survivors. If passed, the Bridging Resource and Information Gaps in Human Trafficking (BRIGHT) Network would extend into Polk, Hardee, Highlands, DeSoto, Okeechobee, Glades, Hendry and Collier counties.

Report shows massive increase in unaccompanied children

Attorney General Moody, the state’s highest law enforcement officer, said Florida is one of the top locations for both labor and sex trafficking because of its large agriculture business and tourist destinations. 

Moody said a recent Statewide Grand Jury Report showed alarming flaws in the federal hotline that allows people to report trafficking cases. In the past, tips to that hotline were immediately passed on to state and local law enforcement agencies, who could rescue those being bought and sold.  But a new person took over the organization in 2020 during the Trump administration and, she said, that is no longer the case.

“They would no longer push information to law enforcement so we could stop the trafficking,” Moody said.  “Common sense … will tell you if you do not take out the trafficker, there will be another victim and another victim and another victim and another victim.” She added that a group of bipartisan lawmakers is pushing back.

She said she also wants to see internet providers, websites and cellphone apps do more to protect children and vulnerable populations from predators.

“Technology has exploded in the last few decades – 83% of cases where victims are rescued initiated online,” Moody said. “In many instances when the internet was created and laws were put in place, there was a shield put in place for websites, online media platforms.”

“Websites and apps can’t turn a blind eye to when people and children are being victimized,” she continued. “Protecting our children … is not anti-business.”

“Websites and apps can’t turn a blind eye to when people and children are being victimized.’

FL Attorney General Ashley Moody

The Grand Jury report shows that, since March 2021, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services HHS has consistently had, on average, 11,000 unaccompanied alien children in its care each month, and 72% of them are 15-17 years old. Only 16% were under the age of 13.  The numbers have skyrocketed in the last decade:

  • Fiscal Year 2015 – 27,340 unaccompanied alien children were released into the custody of sponsors.
  • FY 2022 – 127,447 unaccompanied alien children were released to sponsors; 13,195 of them in Florida.
  • Since November 2022, more than 30,000 additional children have been released.

Some of those children, the report noted, wound up with people not related to them who forced them into sex or labor trafficking.

“Human trafficking is pure evil.”

FDLE Commissioner Mark Glass

FDLE Commissioner Glass said Florida is in the top five states for human trafficking and his office stands with his fellow law enforcement officers as they track down, arrest and prosecute the people trading in human beings.

“Human trafficking is pure evil,” Glass said. “Human trafficking is here … it may be in your neighbor’s house and you’d never know.  A lot of times, the people who’ve been human trafficked don’t talk about it – sometimes it takes years.” 

Law enforcement has shifted away from prosecuting victims

Judd, whose office has conducted quarterly prostitution stings in Polk County for many years, said he turns over sex trafficking victims to counselors. He said his undercover detectives normally arrest between 150-200 men trying to procure women or children for sex, along with what he calls professional prostitutes.

 “Once we identify somebody as a victim of human trafficking, we no longer want to make a prostitution arrest, but to turn them over for counseling,” Judd said, noting that some have accused of going soft on prostitutes.

“We’re going soft on the victims of human trafficking and hard on everyone else,” he said. “The hardest victim we deal with is the victim of human trafficking. The truth is sometimes it takes weeks and months and years of counseling and work” to get them to talk about it.

Judd said many of the girls and women who wind up in Polk County, entangled in sex work, are brought to the United States and promised a place to live, a job, even an education.  But when they arrive, they are told they have to pay a price for their journey to “the land of milk and honey.”

“Human traffickers tattoo or brand them as product. They trade them like you would trade a car,” Judd said.  “Now folks, that is as horrible as it can get.  We focus on rescuing the victims.  We also focus on how do we get to the trafficker? We fight human traffickers on every front.” 

Women are increasingly trafficking other women and girls

Judd and several other people at the half-day conference noted that women are becoming more involved in the trafficking of other women.

In March 2022, during one of his stings, Judd noted that 32-year-old Tiffany Ann Nash of Orlando was arrested for trafficking another woman to one of their undercover detectives. 

“Nash repeatedly threatened violence against a woman if she didn’t prostitute herself, then Nash took 100% of the proceeds,” Judd said.

An affidavit on file with the Polk County Clerk of Courts shows Nash repeatedly threatened a 36-year-old homeless woman – including once with a black pellet handgun – saying she would “beat her a—“ if she didn’t prostitute herself and then give Nash all the money to pay bills. She also insisted the woman use drugs before every encounter.

The undercover detective wrote in the affidavit that the victim “became almost inconsolable (and) stated that she was scared (Nash) would harm her, and that her life was in danger … The victim was not arrested, and was immediately offered services by a non-governmental organization specializing in human trafficking, and was placed in a safe location.”

Court records show Nash had a lengthy record for prostitution. She pleaded no contest this year, but was found guilty of living off the earnings of prostitution and possession of cocaine.  She was sentenced to three years of community controlled probation, 30 hours of community service at a women’s shelter, and mandatory submission to drug testing.

Marianne Thomas, founder and president of My Name My Voice, is one of the survivors who now works with victims.

“Trafficking stops if people quit buying into it,” Thomas said, advocating for a bill that would require cellphones to be sold “safety prepared,” so that parents and grandparents aren’t forced to figure out for themselves how to keep their children and grandchildren safe.

She said a bill under current consideration excluded hotels from lawsuits.

“I cannot sue a hotel that knowingly watched me get trafficked, who knew what was happening every single time,” Thomas said. 

She said a lot of women are being trafficked at strip clubs and Airbnbs.

“We’re not generally going to your home,” she added.

Grand jury report shows thousands of lost children

Before leaving the meeting early, Moody again pointed to the March grand jury report.

The report notes that Steven Wagner, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Administration for Children and Families/Health and Human Services testified to the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs that between October and December 2017, the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement “discovered it had lost nearly 1,500 children.”

That was during the administration of President Donald Trump, but things have not improved during President Joe Biden’s administration.  In fact, the report states that things have worsened. Since January 2021 … “ORR lost contact with nearly 20,000 UAC in less than a year.”

“In reality, ORR is facilitating the forced migration, sale, and abuse of foreign children, and some of our fellow Florida residents are (in some cases unwittingly) funding and incentivizing it for primarily economic reasons,” the Grand Jury report states.

“These entities encourage UAC to undertake and/or be subjected to a harrowing trek to our border, ultimately abandoning significant numbers of those who survive the journey to an uncertain fate with persons who are largely unvetted. This process exposes children to horrifying health conditions, constant criminal threat, labor and sex trafficking, robbery, rape, and other experiences not done justice by mere words …”

“The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) published a survey in July, 2022, in which they interviewed 49 UAC (of the more than 13,000 brought in that year) in just two Florida placements. They stated the children interviewed knew very little about the individuals that transported them during their journey to the border [and] disclosed that the individuals who transported them were ‘coyotes.’ One child disclosed that during her journey several members of her group were robbed, attacked by gang members, decapitated, and raped. The child disclosed that she was one of the victims of rape.”

Florida non-governmental organizations have over the past decade collectively received more than $300 million in federal grant monies related to these unaccompanied children.

The report notes that drug cartels and other organized crime entities use migrating families to carry drugs and have their members pose as family members in order to get across the border.

When the unaccompanied children arrive in the United States, they are often handed over to people whose relationship to the child is unknown or unproven and the department stopped the use of rapid DNA tests to prove their relationship.

For several months, planeloads of children were being flown into Jacksonville International Airport in the middle of the night and removed from the plane at a hangar miles away from the regular terminal and the observation of law enforcement.

The ORR refused to provide anyone to the Florida Grand Jury to testify.  But it has also stonewalled Congress, providing incomplete documents, massive amounts of paper copies, or documents that didn’t pertain to an investigation.

“Annually, more than four hundred UAC end up in the dependency and foster care system here in Florida. The UAC then become wards of the foster care system,” the report states. “Each must be provided education, food, shelter, and medical care by our state, and for the duration of their childhood someone will be legally responsible for their welfare.

In addition, in the 2021-22 school year, there were more than 112,000 immigrant children and youth in Florida’s public schools, at a cost of about $8,000 per student, per year.

Technology can be a ‘game changer’ for investigators

Several people in Tuesday’s audience noted that data scraping the electronic devices of victims and arrested traffickers has been a goldmine and can take down multiple traffickers at one time.

Matt Parker and his wife Laura founded Exodus Road, an organization that works undercover in the United States and overseas to bring down sex trafficking rings. He said right now, the outlook is not positive for the girls being bought and sold.

 “I began this work with one underlying belief – if we found a victim, all we had to do is dial 911 and the good guy would rush in, do their job, arrest the bad guy and wrap that child in a blanket,” Parker said.  “And time and time again, as case after case was dismissed or ignored, I realized that… human intelligence by itself wouldn’t be enough. Even in the U.S., where our corruption levels are almost non-existent, it can’t come from the child. We have to have an overwhelming amount of evidence.”

Using a device that allowed access to cellphones, Parker and his organization instigated the largest sex trafficking case in the world, with 500 people arrested and 50 corrupt officials brought down.

“It’s a game changer when we can add (data),” he said. “I’ve sat in so many rooms around the world and they don’t sound anything like this – that you’re fighting to train and share data.”

Hardee County Sheriff Vincent Crawford said his contacts with state and federal agencies help in a rural county without the necessary resources to investigate complicated trafficking cases.

“The majority of migrant farm workers are Spanish speaking, they love being in America and making money and sending it back home,” Crawford said. “We’ll assist them if they’re being violated in any way.”

State Attorney Brian Haas encouraged everyone in the room to continue their diligent work.

“This is an approach that has to be taken from all different levels, jurisdictions, and roles,” Haas said. “This isn’t just a law enforcement issue … Just keep up the good fight because, right now, there are victims out there waiting for us to help them. Don’t ever give up because we need you every single day.”

Midway through the discussion, one of the participants said she had received word that a sex trafficker in Marion County had been in court that morning.  He had received three life sentences, plus 15 years.

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office Tips For Keeping Kids Safe

  1. Talk with your kids about what personal information is (ex. name, address, date of birth, school, grade level) and that they are not to share this with anyone online without your permission, as well as not to share their parents’/guardians’ personal information.
  2. Emphasize keeping things appropriate for their age. There is a reason that some apps require a minimum age and even though your child may meet that minimum age, consider whether or not it is good for your child and what he or she can handle.
  3. Let them know that you want to keep them safe while they are online and that they can tell you anything they see that makes them feel uneasy, scared, or makes them think it may not be safe.
  4. You should know your child’s passwords and unlock codes to their devices so you can monitor what they are doing online. 
  5. We recommend keeping devices in the common areas of the home while in use and while charging, and especially while everyone in the house is asleep. Do not allow internet-enabled devices to stay in your child’s bedroom.
  6. Spend some time teaching and showing them how to be safe online and lay the groundwork for what you consider unsafe. Remind them that they can talk to you or another trusted adult in their life about anything, no matter what anyone else says. Sometimes online predators tell kids they can’t trust their parents/guardians.

Additional resources the PCSO recommends:

Netsmarts – provides age-appropriate online learning activities and videos for parents and children.

Smartsocial – rates mobile apps for parents to help them decide if the app is appropriate for their children.

Internetmatters – provides great learning materials for children of all ages, and shows parents how to set their child’s smart device to block inappropriate or unwanted content.

Techboomers – this video tutorial shows parents how to set parental controls on an iPhone.

Mobile apps parents can download to monitor children online:

Safer Kid – a child safety tool that allows you to see your child’s text messages, web browsing history, phone call history, and contacts.

Net Nanny – tracks your child’s location, displays the location history, and sets time allowances and schedules.

Mama Bear – monitor your child’s social media accounts and driving habits.

mSpy – you can monitor multiple things, such as who your child calls and texts, which apps they use, their GPS location, etc.

A helpful website with more tips about how to keep your children safe online:

The Parents’ Guide to Teaching your Teen Online Safety

Some indicators of possible human trafficking from the Department of Homeland Security:

  • Does the person appear disconnected from family, friends, community organizations, or houses of worship?
  • Has a child stopped attending school?
  • Has the person had a sudden or dramatic change in behavior?
  • Is a juvenile engaged in commercial sex acts?
  • Is the person disoriented or confused, or showing signs of mental or physical abuse?
  • Does the person have bruises in various stages of healing?
  • Is the person fearful, timid, or submissive?
  • Does the person show signs of having been denied food, water, sleep, or medical care?
  • Is the person often in the company of someone to whom he or she defers? Or someone who seems to be in control of where they go or who they talk to?
  • Does the person appear to be coached on what to say?
  • Is the person living in unsuitable conditions?
  • Does the person lack personal possessions and appear not to have a stable living situation?
  • Does the person have freedom of movement? Can the person freely leave where they live? Are there unreasonable security measures?

Indicators of possible trafficking from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office:

If an employer:

  • Demands that a worker perform labor, services or sex acts to repay a debt.
  • Uses threats or attempts to intimidate workers (including threats of deportation) to make people feel afraid to leave.
  • Takes possession of passports or other VISA-type or official documents to make it harder for a worker to leave, complain, or seek help.
  • Makes false promises about the type of work, working hours, working or living conditions, or pay that someone is engaged in.

Neighbors should be on the lookout for:

  • An unusual amount of people apparently living in one location—especially, if they know people are living at a residence, but rarely see them, except for coming or going.
  • Victims can be of any age, sex, or origin, but in Florida we find that the vast majority of victims tend to be younger women (teens, 20s). They also tend to be non-citizens.
  • Women who are trafficked for sex, can be of any racial/ethnic background.
  • In sex trafficking, the victims are often also provided drugs, so drug use is also an element that should cause concern.

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Kimberly C. Moore, who grew up in Lakeland, has been a print, broadcast and multimedia journalist for more than 30 years. Before coming to LkldNow in the spring of 2022, she was a reporter for four years with The Ledger, first covering Lakeland City Hall and then Polk County schools. She is the author of “Star Crossed: The Story of Astronaut Lisa Nowak," published by University Press of Florida. Reach her at or 863-272-9250.

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