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South Florida Human Trafficking Victim Shares Her Story

MIAMI (CBS4)- A nine-year-old girl sat in silhouette and answered questions about a time in her life that most adults wouldn't be able to handle. She spent two years of her life living in shadows after becoming the victim of sex trafficking.

"He locked the door and he never let me out," she said.

To protect this young girl's identity, we'll call her "Ana." Her story begins with her mother "Maria." She said Ana's father abused her constantly in Honduras where they all lived.

"He beat me. He beat me so much that there were times that he would beat me, I would wake up and it would be a different day," Maria told CBS4's Natalia Zea in Spanish. "My children suffered too."

Maria said despite being abused by Ana's father she allowed him to smuggle her from Honduras to a trailer park in Miami. Maria didn't realize she was being brought into modern day slavery. She said she was locked up by his mother when she wasn't working.

"I would work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. When I would ask for money to send home to my mother, she would say no. You have to pay your debt for the trip," Maria said.

Maria said she spent nearly two years captive in that home until she knocked her boyfriend out and used his keys to make a break for it.

A few months later he flew back to Honduras and kidnapped their daughter, then five-year-old Ana, bringing her to the same trailer home.

"He kept me in the house and he didn't let me out," said Ana.

He forced her to cook and clean and to take care of his teen and adult family members.

"I didn't know really good how to cook, he threw the food at me and it was hot," she said.

She also questioned why the other family members would go to class while she stayed home.

"I was like, 'Dad when I'm going to go to school?' And he didn't respond tome, he said, 'Go back in the house.'"

She never went to school, and she said she would go days without being fed. The stress of the domestic servitude impacted her psychologically.

"I'd pee in the bed almost every day, and (my father) hits me and hits me and hits me. So they decided to put a bed outside and I sleep there," recalled Ana.

That "bed" she said was nothing more than a blanket on the ground.

Maria found out her daughter had been trafficked, and too afraid to go to police, she tried to get her back on her own. She said she confronted Ana's father.

"I told him I want to see my daughter. He said, 'Are you going to stay with me?' And I said, No! I just want my daughter.' He was high and took a machete from his car, and chased me out of there," she recalled.

It wasn't until another family member stepped in that Maria was able to rescue Ana. She seaked Ana out of the home while Ana's father and grandmother were away.  Now with the help of non-profit social services program, Project SOS, Ana is in school and for the first time in a long time she said, "I'm really happy."

CBS4 is a proud media sponsor of "Fashion for Charity," a charity fashion show set for September 17th, that will in part benefit Project SOS. For more information click here:

According to South Florida Human Trafficking Task Force manager, Tonja Marshall, human trafficking is happening behind closed doors in our community. Your neighbor could be a victim, even your manicurist without you even knowing it.

She said the South Florida task force since 2008, has helped 89 victims who were trafficked into South Florida from other countries.

Marshall said South Florida is a prime location for trafficking incidents. It has a large population, different ethnic groups, a big tourism industry and plenty of agricultural work.

There are a number of different kinds of human trafficking, but it often includes psychological coercion, threats against family back home, and in sex trafficking cases, the threat of being ousted in the victim's community back home.

Trafficking victims are primarily used for sex, domestic servitude or manual labor.

Marshall said Domestic servitude is the hardest to find because the victim is rarely out of the home. It usually takes a neighbor to report it.

Neighbors should keep their eyes open for someone in the home who is not treated as family. Someone who rarely speaks or makes eye contact.

The signs of sex trafficking often include a large group of women being moved around by a driver very often. They will often only have a small suitcase. Also, keep an eye out for homes with a number of women coming in and out.

The biggest sign a child may be a human trafficking victim is if they are not attending school.

Nationwide, from October, 2009 to September of 2010, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement initiated 651 human trafficking investigations, and made 300 criminal arrests. In the majority of cases, ICE went to the victims after being tipped off by someone other than the victim.

Human trafficking has become big business. It is often well organized and executed.

If you suspect a case of human trafficking call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-3737-888.

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