LAKE COUNTY, Fla. – The United States is once again ranked as one of the worst countries in the world for human trafficking.
According to law enforcement, Central Florida is a hotbed for this kind of modern-day slavery. And to make matters worse, victims are getting younger and younger, with pimps now recruiting elementary school-age children.
For most children, Central Florida is about the Space Coast launches, fun at the beach and theme park thrills. But human trafficking survivor Savannah Parvu, who was 11 years old when she was sold for sex, knows a much darker side.
Parvu was human trafficked by a family member.
“I grew up in Central Florida,” Parvu said. “She would take me with her to prostitute herself. Her drug dealer offered her $10 for me instead of her. And she said, ‘That’s fine, do whatever you want.’”
Parvu said. “It would all happen at his house or at hotels.”
Human trafficking statistics in the U.S. rank Florida as the third worst state behind California and Texas.
Crystal Blanton is a victims’ advocate with Marion County’s Human Trafficking Task Force. She says victims are getting younger and younger.
“It’s a definite problem,” Blanton said. “’Some of our youngest victims have been 9. So anywhere from 9 on up.”
According to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report, more than 300,000 American children are at risk for sexual exploitation. It’s also estimated 199,000 incidents occur in the U.S. every year.
Blanton said pimps commonly use Central Florida’s kid-friendly attractions to lure in children.
“Sometimes they are being recruited by other children,” Blanton said.
It’s happening at parks, malls and schools. Ocala police are even placing posters around campuses to educate students about the dangers.
According to law enforcement, the most powerful tool pimps use to recruit children are likely in your child’s hands right now.
Smartphones give kids quick access to social media, email, texts and chat rooms used to recruit.
“You honestly can’t start too young for looking for signs and being aware of what our children are doing specifically online, because that is a gateway for traffickers,” Blanton said. “If you see something, say something.”
Parvu’s been saying a lot.
She’s made several trips to Tallahassee pushing for a bill that would be require training for hotel workers to better spot human trafficking and potentially save lives.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill a couple weeks ago.
“I feel like if it would’ve helped me. It will help other people now,” Parvu said.
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GameStop Lays Off Over 100 People, Including Nearly Half Of Game Informer’s Staff
The struggling retail chain GameStop laid off over a hundred employees today, both at its corporate headquarters in Grapevine, Texas and at other offices including its subsidiary Game Informer magazine in Minnesota, where nearly half of the editorial staff lost their jobs in a surprise cut.
“As part of the previously announced GameStop Reboot initiative to transform our business for the future and improve our financial performance, we can confirm a workforce reduction was implemented impacting more than 120 corporate staff positions, representing approximately 14% of our total associate base at our company headquarters as well as at some other offices,” a GameStop spokesperson told Kotaku in a statement.
“While these changes are difficult, they were necessary to reduce costs and better align the organization with our efforts to optimize the business to meet our future objectives and success factors. We recognize that this is a difficult day for our company and particularly for those associates impacted. We appreciate their dedication and service to GameStop and are committed to supporting them during this time of transition.”
This news comes just a few weeks after GameStop laid off dozens of regional managers, following a brutal year that saw the company try (and then stop trying) to sell itself. GameStop’s stock has plummeted over the past few years as the retailer continues to struggle to stay afloat in a world where digital distribution has grown to dominate gaming.
The layoffs blindsided staff at Game Informer today. Seven of the popular magazine’s editors announced on Twitter this afternoon that they had been laid off, including one who said he was on vacation. (Per Game Informer’s masthead, the magazine has 19 full-time editorial staff.)
“I am trying to get things right with my people,” editor-in-chief Andy McNamara wrote on Twitter. “I love Game Informer, its people and its readers more than any corporation could, and I will address all the issues when I can, but for now I need to focus on my GI family.”