Bradenton, Fla. -- Human trafficking, also known as modern-day slavery, is a crime some victims are too ashamed to report.
The numbers are staggering. According to dosomething.org between 14 and 17-thousand people are trafficked into the US each year, generating $32 billion dollars.
Recently, a Manatee County man was arrested on human trafficking. Deputies arrested 41-year-old Juan Cruz Jr. after one victim turned him in to deputies.
“Bravo to her to have the courage to come forward,” said Bradenton Police Chief Melanie Bevan. Florida Governor Rick Scott recently appointed Bevan to the Governor’s State Council on Human Trafficking.
Bevan said, “We recommend initiatives, training. We help steer prosecution.”
Cruz’s alleged victims are two women, 24 and 29 years old. The victims said he’d feed their drug addiction and in return, he sold them for sex advertised on the website 'Backpage' as “dates” for $150 for a half hour, with an additional half hour costing $50.
“Those aren’t prostitutes, but victims. 100% victims,” said Bevan.
The victim told deputies they were kept locked up in this Bradenton storage unit number 18 for several hours even overnight with no food, water, toilets or bedding.
After four days without sleeping or showering, one victim told deputies out of desperation she locked herself in the building bathroom.
She used her cell phone to call 911 but didn’t have an address to give—she didn’t know where she was. She told deputies when she came out, Cruz tried running her over with his car, threatened her, and then fled. A friend picked her up.
Getting victims to come forward is difficult but Bevan says identifying one is even tougher.
Bevan said, “It’s not just women… men, young men, there are no gender boundaries.”
Organizations like Selah Freedom helped 18-hundred women and victims of human trafficking in the Tampa-Sarasota area last year. Bevan hopes groups like that can help law enforcement save lives.
Bevan said, “If they see we’re standing alongside people trying to help remedy and remove them from this environment it can only be a positive.”
The Statewide Council on Human Trafficking consists of 15 members. It recommends programs and services for safe housing and foster homes and prosecuting traffickers.
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