LEE COUNTY, Fl. - Across America, there are about 300-thousand people right now who are victims of human trafficking.
It's a crime that hits much closer to home than you may think. The average victim of human trafficking is a 13-year-old girl.
Stats like that have local law enforcement joining forces with school leaders to make sure they recognize the signs of a victim that could be student right in their classroom.
"It's a hidden world in plain view... it's there but nobody wants to look at it or address it," says Patrick Hayhurst.
Hayhurst is the director of security for Lee County Schools. He says human trafficking is a growing industry that's forcing kids right here in Southwest Florida into slavery.
"People don't grow up and say I want to be a prostitute, these people are in slavery. You have kids living at home that are being human trafficked and they're living with their parents and their parents have no idea that it's going on," he adds.
It's why Hayhurst is working to spread awareness about this crime, especially with kids back in school. He's working with organizations like the Human Trafficking Awareness Partnerships to train teachers, school counselors and nurses to recognize the possible signs of a victim.
"Look at the kids and see what they're doing. If they're doodling, just go by and see what they're doodling, they may actually be letting out what's happening," he says.
Nola Theiss has worked for years to expose this crime in Florida.
"What we have really started focusing on... those domestic minor sex trafficking victims because unfortunately, they're our children," she says.
Children that make up half of the more than 2 million people around the world held in slavery at any given time. A stat that both Hayhurst and Theiss are fighting with education.
"When we talk about trafficking, we're talking about money, that's why they're doing it. And unfortunately in our economy right now, this is one of the fastest growing, most profitable enterprises," she adds.
Hayhurst says the Southwest Florida Human Trafficking Coalition will be expanding around the region to also help educate people about his crime.
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