Florida, with its destination beaches and popular theme parks, has long been a hub for human trafficking. Law enforcement officials in Hillsborough County are working on curbing these activities.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office announced Monday morning that deputies arrested 125 men and freed five people in a recent operation.
Those arrested include a Hillsborough County Public School teacher and a local pastor.
The 20-day “Operation Round-up” began in August and wrapped up last week.
Sheriff Chad Chronister said that detectives created undercover profiles online to chat with men interested in minors, created false advertisements for sex, and had undercover female detectives pose as prostitutes.
Chronister added that operations like this help his office “reduce the demand, rescue those in need and help guide them to the proper resources and help.”
“The only thing wrong with the number of victims is that we know that there are more out there,” he said.
Four women and one 17-year-old were rescued and referred to a Selah Freedom, a local group that assists victims of human trafficking.
Chronister said that the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office now has a full-time squad of 12 deputies targeting human trafficking. The deputies are trying to reduce demand while also rescuing victims.
Big events like the Super Bowl, which was held in Tampa earlier this year, bring a lot of people and opportunities for this kind of activity to the area, so Chronister says they are keeping deputies focused on the problem.
“One thing we’ve learned is it’s not just special events that create that human trafficking,” he said. “The need to target that need and that demand is full-time.”