FORT MYERS, Fla. - Deputies say a Fort Myers woman turned her children into prostitutes, and beat and starved them if they didn't buy her drugs. She faces felony charges, including Forced Labor through Human Trafficking.
"They were given orders by the suspect to purchase narcotics on her behalf and if they didn't, according to the evidence that we've recovered, they would be beaten," said Det. Mike Zaleski of the Lee County Sheriff's Office.
WINK News is not naming the woman to protect the kids. Reports say she beat the 4 young girls with a hammer, wire hangers, and a belt, starved them, and even urinated on them.
"The data that I've been trained on suggests that domestic minor sex trafficking is probably the largest problem in America today," Zaleski said.
According to Nola Theiss, Founder and Executive Director of Human Trafficking Awareness Partnerships, only about 1% of the children involved are actually abducted. A shocking 30% are trafficked by family members.
"The term trafficking implies movement, but there have been many cases of young people, young children, who have been trafficked literally right out of their homes," Theiss said.
HTAP is an outreach and awareness program, teaching local children about the hidden crime. According to the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking, 2.5 million people are enslaved in the U.S. Theiss said there are warning signs:
"Erratic behavior, if they've always been one kind of kid and suddenly they are a different kind of kid, if their grades go down, things we've often written off to drugs can sometimes be human trafficking," Theiss said.
Other signs include drastic changes in clothing and kids having expensive gifts they can't account for.
Theiss started "Artreach" last year to help educate local kids on the dangers of trafficking. Students paint or perform plays to express their response in artistic manners. To learn more about "Artreach" or HTAP, head to http://humantraffickingawareness.com/