January 13, 2016
2 mins read

Though it’s been well over a centurysince the Emancipation Proclamation made slavery illegal in America, that pernicious evil is alive and well in the United States, and in Florida in particular: The state is consistently ranked third in the nation for cases of human trafficking.

As part of the state government’s ongoing efforts to curb ± and eventually end — this disturbing trend, legislation went into effect on Jan. 1 requiring emergency rooms and public facilities operated by the Department of Transportation — including rest areas, railway stations, airports and weigh stations — to post public awareness signs bearing information about indicators of human trafficking and the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s hotline, which potential victims of, and witnesses to, human trafficking can contact to seek help and other resources. (The organization reports that in 2014 alone, the hotline received nearly 1,500 calls originating in Florida and 364 reported cases of human trafficking in the state.) Violations of are punishable by a fine of $500 (

Human trafficking occurs in towns of all sizes across the nation and Jacksonville is no different. In 2013, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, working with the FBI, reported 40 arrests related to human trafficking; 50 victims were identified, seven of whom were children.

Yet local officials have not passed an
ordinance that would enforce the requirement that these signs be placed in establishments well-known for disguising their human trafficking operations as legitimate business practices: massage parlors and massage spas, specifically those that are not operated by medical professionals, as well as adult entertainment establishments and strip clubs.

Though the legislation technically does require these types of establishments to post the signs, it’s up to municipalities to pass an ordinance to enable local enforcement of the legislation. Pinellas County passed such an ordinance in September; Orange County did so in November. Without the power of enforcement, these places are left to their own discretion regarding posting the signs.

It’s no secret that prostitution often occurs, or is facilitated, at strip clubs, adult entertainment venues and massage parlors. In recent years, it has become common knowledge that some prostitutes are victims, forced into the trade by traffickers who use violence, coercion, drugs and threats to control them.

Polaris Project, a nonprofit organization that works to eradicate human trafficking, reports that there are 9,000 illicit massage parlors in the U.S. and that between 2007 and 2015, there was a total of 2,000 cases of human trafficking in massage parlors reported to the NHRTC hotline (888-373-7888) and Polaris’ BeFree texting helpline (233733).

As of noon on Jan. 7, there were 39 ads for body rubs in the adult section of Jacksonville’s;, a site that provides “erotic massage parlor reviews,” lists 24 massage parlors in the area that potentially provide a “rub and a tug,” industry parlance for a massage that consists of, or ends with, a hand job, a blow job, and/or sexual intercourse. There is no question that at least some of the sex workers in the establishments or these ads are victims of human trafficking, enduring unimaginable horrors on a daily basis.

According to Polaris’ website, “Women in brothels disguised as massage businesses typically live on-site, where they are coerced into providing commercial sex to six to 10 men a day, seven days a week.”

Sadly, because the bonds of modern-day slavery are typically figurative rather than literal, it is difficult to identify victims.

“They don’t realize that they’re victims so, because they don’t see themselves as victims, they themselves aren’t going to report that they are victims … all of the cases that are found in Florida have been because someone saw something,” says Giselle Rodriguez, outreach coordinator for the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking.

Law enforcement can’t possibly track every Internet ad or visit every massage parlor or strip club to check for signs of trafficking, so identifying victims often requires information and cooperation from victims and the public. “The community is basically the eyes and ears for law enforcements to identify human trafficking cases,” says Rodriguez.

This is why the state legislature passed, and Governor Rick Scott signed, legislation requiring the posting of these signs in areas known to be frequented by traffickers and their victims. It’s up to Jacksonville’s City Council to give it teeth.

Folio is your guide to entertainment and culture around and near Jacksonville, Florida. We cover events, concerts, restaurants, theatre, sports, art, happenings, and all things about living and visiting Jax. Folio serves more than two million readers across Jacksonville and Northeast Florida, including St. Augustine, The Beaches, and Fernandina.

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