Human Trafficking: Runaways Are a Target | News

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Human Trafficking: Runaways Are a Target
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. --  Police say it doesn't take long to get trapped in the web known as human trafficking.

For one local girl, it took only 36 hours. "He pulled me in with his kindness and pushed me out with his violence. I was only 15 and naive."

Those words are from the young Jacksonville girl, simply known in court records as A.B.

"She's a typical 15-year-old girl.  She's an A/B honor roll student," said JSO detective Dave Bisplinghoff.

Bisplinghoff said that the typical teen ran away from a stable home life and ended up tangled in human trafficking.

"Within a matter of 36 hours, she was brought into that trade in a poor neighborhood in Jacksonville and quickly introduced to crack cocaine, then the world of prostitution," said Bisplinghoff.

In three weeks, the teen was moved from one Jacksonville hotel to another, an apartment in Arlington and was forced to have sex with 200 men.

"She actually got away.  He drove around and found her and, basically, physically beat her and dragged her back to his vehicle," said Bisplinghoff.

That man was Ian Sean Gordon. A 28-year-old who had complete control of that 15-year-old girl. That is until she was able to escape, again.

"She spent the night in some bushes off the Arlington Expressway.  A businessman found her," said Bisplinghoff.

That was the first day of a new life for that young girl.

A.B. is just one of countless human trafficking victims in Jacksonville.  The dark network of illegal sex continues to grow because more are demanding it.  Many of the victims are runaways or those in an unstable home environment.

"When people think of the phrase human trafficking, think large amounts of people...truck full of immigrants being moved across the border," said Special Agent in Charge of the Jacksonville FBI office, James Casey.

But Casey said many times that is not the case.

"What's a bigger problem? Taking teens from Chicago and bringing them to Ohio, Florida or Georgia to traffic in sex.  That's a huge problem. That's a big problem everywhere in the country, and it's a big problem here," said Casey.

In numerous federal indictments, there are stories of young women being bussed from Savannah to Jacksonville for sex, driven from Atlanta to Jacksonville.

Indictments detail how young women were taken from I-95 in Jacksonville to apartments in St. Mary's, Georgia.

Baker, Nassau, Duval, Columbia and Hamilton counties are just some of the spots tied to an international network.  The JSO and the FBI work together to find victims, who can range in age from teens to adults.

"It can be pretty young...14,15. Maybe even a little younger than that sometimes," said Casey.

The difference in prostitution and human trafficking boils down to three points authorities have to prove in order to prosecute:  threat, force and coercion.  In many cases, the girls are drugged.  Some are even lured in with what they believe are real jobs.

According to federal court records, one woman from Mexico told federal agents she paid $3000 to come to the U.S. so she could "provide a better life for her family."

"They are promised jobs either in the restaurant business or hospitality business, and once they get here those jobs don't exist.  They were all made up. They are basically told you owe us money. You will do this," said Bisplinghoff.

The going rate for 15 minutes of sex costs about $25. Authorities say the growth of trafficking networks is what concerns them the most.

"It's being done right in front of them in the parking lot of grocery stores, in your neighborhoods. It's right in front of your face, and they just blend in," said Bisplinghoff.

Detective Bisplinghoff said Tyrone Townsend trafficked two women, one from New York, the other Canada. He said they were taken to places in Jacksonville that would catch some by surprise.

"We actually seized his GPS and downloaded it, and people would be surprised what nice neighborhoods he took these girls too," said Bisplinghoff.

In federal court, trafficking victim, A.B. read a statement detailing what those three weeks in the network were like.

"I was no longer human.  I was a product for this man.  I was his walking contraband... Now I'm sitting here putting the pieces together so I won't have to live this life forever."

Those are some of the last words A.B. said to her trafficker, Ian Gordon.  She is the reason he will spend the rest of his life in prison.

"Her memory was just unbelievable, the smallest details possible and the fact she could recall so much, that we actually put her in one of our vehicles, and she drove us around town and pointed out some of the houses she was taken to when she wasn't being kept at the hotel," said Bisplinghoff.

Her words also helped send six others to prison for a very long time.  But the forever she spoke of in her statement to the court, did not last.

"Right now, unfortunately, she went back and picked up some serious charges and sits in our jail," said Bisplinghoff.

Six months ago, A.B. slipped right back into that dangerous web.  A network Gregory Hodge, Jr., is accused of running.
A web so controlling, it was too hard for the teen to let go.

Signs of those involved in human trafficking include the individual:  

    * is not free to leave or come and go as they please

    *is under the age of 18 and providing commercial sex acts

    *shows signs of physical or sexual abuse

    *is not allowed or able to speak for themselves.

Coming up Tuesday on First Coast News at 6, a local group trains to rescue victims of human trafficking.

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