#minorsextrafficking | Human Trafficking Groups: COVID-19 Complicates Victim Help

Organizations that help victims of human trafficking are falling victim to slashed funding.

What You Need To Know

  • Human trafficking groups say they have increased demand for help
  • Polaris Project: Florida ranks third in the country in human trafficking
  • National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1 (888) 373-7888
    Or text “HELP” or “INFO” to 233733

The Lifeboat Project in Central Florida is trying to pave a path forward, while working with less money and higher demand.

The organization throws a lifeline to adults in Central Florida who have been victims of sex, labor, and servitude trafficking.

CEO and founder Jill Bolander Cohen says when the pandemic slowed everything down, it skyrocketed the demand for their services.

“We’ve had to cancel a lot of our events, however our phones are blowing up from victims still needing services,” Bolander Cohen said. “And the national human trafficking hotline of Polaris found that there’s really been a 40 percent increase of calls they’ve received since the shutdown began. We’re just seeing a great need. Funding is just really not there. So it keeps me up at night for sure.”

In spite of these challenges, the Lifeboat Project has a brand new safe house for victims of trafficking. It’s complete with 14 beds. After a short-term stay, the goal is for victims to move to transitional housing, and then to independent living.

But Bolander Cohen’s goal, right now, is to identify more people who need these services.

She says because of the pandemic, human trafficking is even harder to catch.

“[Before] at least they were around a teacher or some kind of an adult, a bus driver,” said Bolander Cohen. “Now they’re at home, and sometimes it’s the family that are the traffickers. So we don’t really have accessibility to these children.”

The Polaris Project says Florida ranks third in the country for highest amount of human trafficking.

Even though this is another statistic that keeps Bolander Cohen feeling restless, she says we can change the narrative in Central Florida by keeping our own eyes open.

“I always say if something looks and feels off, it usually is, and it needs to be reported. Law enforcement would really rather have you report it than be sorry,” she said.

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