MIAMI BEACH (CBSMiami) -- Human trafficking is a big business and it is a major problem in South Florida and one of the hotspots of this crime is on Miami Beach.
Police in the city say they arrested 3 dozen suspected human traffickers in 2017. That's believed to be the most in the South Florida area and investigators say in addition to focusing on arresting traffickers they're focusing on providing help to victims.
Crime scene photos from Miami Beach Police begin to tell this story of human trafficking. Photos show women branded by their pimps and traffickers, wearing the same tattoos as the men who exploit them. They also show women beaten by their pimps and traffickers when they fail to meet cash quotas for sex. They are the stories Miami Beach Police detectives see day after day.
"They're here all the time," said one veteran detective, who asked us to hide his identity.
Several Miami Beach Police detectives let CBS4 News into their world as they work to catch men who prey on women. Detectives working to uncover human traffickers see this crime all over the city.
"This could happen in a 5 star hotel," the detective said. "It could happen in a crack hotel. It could happen walking down the street. It could happen in a club. It could happen in a bar. These victims are everywhere being forced to work."
Miami Beach lures human traffickers like cold hard cash lures a man with a stable of women in his grasp.
"They do come here because it's a big tourist area," the detective said. "It's a big special events city and there's a lot of money here and that's who they target."
They also target vulnerable women to become sex workers.
"They come from rough or traumatic upbringings looking for some sense of security and the pimps kind of prey on that," he said.
After years of dealing with traffickers and victims, detectives say traffickers know just what to say to earn their victims trust.
"They feed them lies," the detective said. "They tell them, 'I'm going to make you a model. I'm gonna make you rich' but really the only person who ever benefits from this are the pimps themselves."
Miami Beach said they arrested 36 men for human trafficking-related crimes in 2017. Men like Giancarlo Prieto, who detectives say forced a woman to prostitute herself and steal items like expensive watches from men. If the woman didn't meet his quotas, an arrest report says Prieto "…more than one time struck her with a closed fist when she wasn't making enough money."
Detectives say the women are forced to place ads online like one they showed us that promised "fun with a beautiful hot chick." Or the women are forced to walk the streets looking for men, especially ones with high-end watches.
"We've had girls who told us they were instructed to read books about certain watches and they had to memorize the watches that were in the book and the goal is to go out and get me one of those watches," said another longtime detective who also asked that we conceal her identity. "They'll get a watch or they'll get beaten as if they didn't make money."
All of which adds to the agency's desire to treat the women as victims — victims without choices, without anywhere to go and with no one to trust.
"We're the law and they're not trusting of the law," the detective said.
Detectives describe a bleak existence for the women brought to cities like Miami Beach from places like California, Alaska, Canada and Serbia with promises of jobs and a new life only to be forced into degrading conditions with no way out.
"They're restricted on how much they can sleep," the detective said. "Maybe they can sleep 4 hours, they have to work 20. They all have a quota to make. If they don't make it, they can be punished. Punishment can be a beating, a severe beating, being deprived of food, being deprived of sleep."
And ultimately being deprived of their humanity.
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