Signs to stop the rise of human trafficking in SWFL

Some of the most unsuspecting homes are in the quietest Southwest Florida neighborhoods and have hidden dark secrets. At one home in Lehigh Acres, Lee County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested a man last week accused of forcing at least two young girls to have sex with him and other men.

That suspect, Jesus Francisco Santana Perez, 52, is facing charges of two counts of Lewd Battery and two counts of Human Trafficking.

One of the victims said Perez got her high before taking off her clothes. The young girl tried pushing him away before he eventually had sex with her. But she was not the only victim in the case nor the only young girl that is a victim of human trafficking. Experts said the numbers are staggering.

“From back three years ago, our caseload has tripled,” said Erika Pineros, with Catholic Charities anti-human trafficking program. “It’s like a taboo subject at times and it shouldn’t be because unfortunately it is happening and the most vulnerable population are minors.”

Catholic Charities has a program it dedicates to helping survivors. In the last five years, the number of cases has tripled because we are located between Tampa and Miami.

Pineros told WINK News several warning signs, including the victim not having an ID because traffickers love taking them away as a “form of control.”

Another sign is if someone is living at a residence and seeing a lot of back and forth movement. A third is if someone is working somewhere and living in the same place. Also, if a young girl is missing school or referring to an older boyfriend.

Pineros warns you cannot let your guard down because traffickers could be anywhere, including right next door.

“It’s one thing seeing it happen far away or in another state,” Pineros said. “Not here. Not next door.”

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If you or someone you know may be a victim of sex trafficking, contact theĀ National Human Trafficking Hotline.

Reporter:Taylor Petras
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