South Florida a "Perfect Storm" For Human Trafficking

Investigators say South Florida contributes to an estimated $32 billion human trafficking industry worldwide

By Sharon Lawson
|  Saturday, Sep 17, 2011  |  Updated 4:40 PM EDT
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Human Trafficking still plagues South Florida

Human Trafficking still plagues South Florida

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In Miami, a dirty secret lies beneath the cosmopolitan veneer.

"When you look at South Florida," said Carmen Pino of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, "we are like the perfect storm...for human trafficking.

"And now you have organized crime that's taken hold of things and they're working to make billions of dollars off that industry."

Pino, an assistant special agent in charge of homeland security investigations in Miami, investigates the trafficking of people internationally and across state lines. The victims, he says, are exploited for labor, domestic servitude or commercial sex.

"It's an absolute huge problem," said Pino.

A recent report estimated $32 billion a year in profits from the 27 million people victimized worldwide.

The number one group at risk by traffickers in America, experts say, is runaways.

Sandy Skelaney, who went from being homeless to getting a masters degree from Yale University, now works at the Kristi House in Miami, a child advocacy center that works with children who are sexually abused. She manages Project Gold, a program that works with girls who have been sexually exploited.

For three years Skelaney called the streets home.

"I was surrounded by young people who were being victimized in the industry," said Skelaney. "They target them and know where to find them."

Florida ranks 3rd in the country for lucrative human trafficking. Law enforcement agencies are trying to get the message out through public service announcements, education and awareness.

Adriane Reesey, a liaison with the Broward Sheriff's Office and President and chair of the Broward County Human Trafficking Coalition, says disturbing trend here in South Florida finds criminals using force, fraud, or coercion to entice the vulnerable.

"It is here and it's in our backyard and in our neighborhoods," said Reesey.

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