More than 200 people were arrested on human trafficking-related charges during a week-long, multi-agency undercover investigation dubbed “Operation Traffic Stop,” according to an announcement by Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.
The operation targeted individuals who offered or solicited prostitution, as well as those who assisted or profited from it. An investigation was conducted to determine whether individuals providing “prostitution services” were being exploited or trafficked. People in need were served by detectives and social service organizations like Selah Freedom and Heartland for Children.
Sherriff Judd stated, “Not only did we arrest more suspects during this single operation than we have ever arrested before, we identified 24 human trafficking victims – the highest number of victims we’ve ever rescued during one of these investigations.”
One hundred and eleven sex workers were arrested, but 24 were identified as possible victims of human trafficking. It is reported that 14 of the victims were migrants from Cuba and Mexico, and that some of them were forced into prostitution to settle debts owed to those who smuggled them into the country, and that their families were threatened if they refused.
The individuals arrested face a combined 68 felonies and 308 misdemeanors. The arrests were made possible through the collaborative efforts of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, the Lakeland Police Department, the Winter Haven Police Department, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, as well as the Office of the Attorney General.