When you think of human trafficking, you may not think of Collier County. Unfortunately, human trafficking is a reality in Collier County and Southwest Florida as a whole.
WINK News sat down with one woman born and raised in Naples who fell victim to human trafficking. She hopes her story will help others be more aware of the dangers in our community.
The woman will be identified as Sara to protect her identity.
“I was raised in Naples, one of the safest places I consider in the nation. And I mean, I was going to college, I was doing everything right. I came from a good family. I didn’t experience childhood trauma,” Sara said.
She had what many would consider a great childhood, a perfect life until she met a man at a bar in Collier County.
“I felt like I could trust,” said Sara. “From there, you know, within a week or so, we just started dating. It seemed pretty normal.”
That was until he showed her a modeling advertisement and made her feel bad about not being interested in the job.
“I said, okay, I will do the interview.”
Sara said the interview was where she encountered her first trafficker. “I had no idea that I was walking into a trafficking in this initiation. That was the first time I was raped.”
Ashamed and scared, Sara told her boyfriend what had happened.
“He reassured me well, then, ‘it’s work-related,’ and ‘you have to do what you have to do,’ you know, to bring income make us money.”
The trafficking took place for two weeks in Collier County with her boyfriend bringing her to and from the location.
Sara said, “it was still supposed to be the modeling thing. But it wasn’t. I was seeing ‘Jons’ five days a week, from nine to five, non-stop.”
Sara said she thought it was part of the job. “He made it seem like it was part of the job. But the thing is the trafficker; it’s like I was never out of his sight. And even when I couldn’t see him, he still had eyes on me. So I couldn’t run out of the room that I was in. I couldn’t call for help.”
On week three, Sara’s boyfriend turned into her new trafficker, driving her all over Southwest Florida to service men, also known as “Jons.”
“He never left my sight. He became my shadow.”
She described the Jons as middle to upper-class businessmen and family men.
“I remember one guy telling me, ‘I have to go meet my wife for golf.’ So it was just, I remember just looking at him. And I was just like, are you serious? And he’s like, ‘I’m gonna be late. I have to go meet my wife for golf.’ Or there was another guy who was like, ‘my wife is shopping right now. So I’ve got about an hour.’ And this was in Naples,” Sara said.
Sara said she often met the Jons at high end locations.
For eight months, she was on call 24/7. She was a victim of human trafficking.
“I reached a point where I thought I was never going to get out of that lifestyle of exploitation. I just wanted it to end so bad. I remember the last two weeks of that exploitation period. I just remember wanting to give up so badly and just asking god for, you know, for this nightmare to end.”
Eventually, Sara’s boyfriend gave her the option to stop servicing Jons.
Sara said, “he had other things for me to do, and it involved just other illegal activities. And I remember always choosing to help them commit other crimes rather than working and seeing Jons.”
The exploitation came to an end with her arrest for those other crimes.
That is when she chose to turn her life around.
After serving time, she went back to school, got a job, and came across the Shelter for Abused Women and Children and took control of her life.
Ten years later, Sara is helping other victims by sharing her story because human trafficking is happening now more than ever.
“They are preying on the vulnerable, the innocent, and the uneducated. When it comes to trafficking,” said Sara.
The Shelter for Abused Women and Children also helped get Sara’s charges expunged because she was a victim of human trafficking.
If you think you are in a situation similar to Sara’s or know someone who is, you can contact the Collier County Sheriff’s Office Human Trafficking number at 239-252-0060 or email Marisol.Rodriguez@colliersheriff.org.
You can also contact the Shelter for Abused Women and Children by calling (239) 775-1101.
Below are anti-human trafficking and mental health resources available to Southwest Floridians at the national and local levels: