JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A home stay order in force in Florida due to the coronavirus epidemic does not prevent prostitution and sex trafficking from continuing in Jacksonville.
News4Jax recently spoke to a woman seen reporting cars passing on the Philips highway. The woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that she tried to keep food on the table and a roof over her head.
“I have to live in a hotel that costs $ 68 a day and I have nowhere to go,” she said. “I have to eat, I have to drink and I have to have shelter.”
Unfortunately, the plight of women is not unique. Advocates for victims of sex trafficking argue that there is a growing demand for the sex trade despite the risks posed by the coronavirus.
In this case, the woman admitted that she was still worried about meeting “rapists and serial killers”, but she is not afraid of being exposed to the virus, which causes the deadly disease COVID-19.
Although the woman does not say if she was forced into this line of work, she admitted that she ran the risk of being injured if she did not work. His concerns seem to be based on the fact that an SUV with tinted windows passed several times during its maintenance.
She told News4Jax that she was not alone, adding that there were other women working in the area whose safety could be compromised if they tried to stop.
Video surveillance installed near the Philips highway showed women reporting cars, while others could be seen getting into cars and being dropped off at nearby parking lots. The images captured similar activity along St. Augustine Road near San Marco.
News4Jax crime and security specialist Ken Jefferson said that it appears that sex traffickers are becoming more and more desperate for money during the public health crisis.
“Regardless of this pandemic that we face nationally, crime and elitist behavior are still happening,” said Jefferson. “When you run into a problem like this, it shows you how desperate people are. The pimps don’t care and it’s sad to say, but the Johns don’t care. “
This is of particular concern as officials intensify security measures aimed at creating a safe distance between people, as the virus is known to spread from person to person.
“The threat of contracting the coronavirus or a sexually transmitted disease does not deter them,” said Jefferson. “Even when the virus was not there, there was still a threat of STDs or getting caught and going to jail.”
Coronavirus symptoms include coughing, fever, and difficulty breathing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet health officials have noted that some people do not even realize they have the virus because they do not have visible symptoms.
Despite this knowledge, the woman who spoke to News4Jax said that she knew she was taking a risk. It is not clear whether other women also understand the risk to themselves and to others each time they get into a car with a stranger – a risk that could potentially promote the spread of the coronavirus.
Mimi Nikkel, founder of Love’s Arm, a Chattanooga, Tennessee-based company nonprofit that helps survivors of sex trafficking, said the coronavirus does not prevent people with sex addictions from engaging in street sex.
“When we are in a situation where people are forced to stay at home or stop doing business as usual, the desire to participate in addictive behavior such as fueling their sexual urges actually increases,” said Nikkel .
Nikkel believes that sex traffickers are stepping up their operations to meet demand, even if it means potentially spreading the coronavirus to trafficked people or the men who are looking for them.
Sometimes Love’s Arm volunteers will do what is called a driving service to collect information about sex trafficking in certain areas and to persuade women to ask for help. Nikkel remembered what she had seen a few nights ago in Chattanooga.
“We saw many men in trucks and cars driving on the streets and we saw several pimps making dates for the girls,” she said. “It was as usual. And in some ways, it looked a little intensified. “
Nikkel noted that none of the men and women she saw wore masks, nor did they appear to be taking any other precautions. She had this to say to those who continue to seek sex despite the health crisis.
“If you can, shut down your brain for 10 to 15 seconds to think about what you are doing,” said Nikkel. “Think about what you do to yourself, to others and to the potential you bring to your home and your family.”
If someone you know is trafficked, help is available. They can call the National hotline against trafficking in human beings at 1-888-373-7888. The hotline is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
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