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Tampa organization says sex trafficking demand has increased amid coronavirus pandemic

Tampa Bay organizations are still working to save people being sold for sex despite the challenges presented by COVID-19.

TAMPA, Fla. — The hospital is often the first line of defense against sex trafficking.

Connie Rose is the executive director of Victims to Survivors, a Tampa organization that works to help and mentor sex trafficking survivors.

While the world is being told to stay at least six feet away from one another and wear a mask in public, Rose says the sex trafficking business hasn't slowed. In fact, she believes the demand is higher and victims are even more vulnerable.

ECPAT International recently released new information about why children are at risk of sexual abuse and exploitation during COVID-19, specifically those with poor living conditions and family instability.

Predators are taking advantage of the extra time online to groom and lure children, according to ECPAT.

Meanwhile, Connie Rose believes the added stress of the pandemic could also lead to increased demand by buyers.

"Sex trafficking has not stopped. It has escalated. It has changed," Rose said.

RELATED: Checking strip clubs, massage businesses for human trafficking signs

RELATED: Here's how Hillsborough County's new anti-human-trafficking commission plans to make a difference

Rose described what it's like trying to save just one woman during the COVID-19 crisis.

HOSPITAL TO HOTLINE

It starts at a local hospital. The woman showed up there for help. The hospital tested the woman for COVID-19. She was negative. Then, they called a local hotline. The hotline reached Connie Rose.

FOOD AND SHELTER

Rose coordinated for the woman to get taken to a local motel. The next day, Rose and other area organizations work together to get the woman clothes, food, a face mask, gloves, sanitizing wipes and other items to help her transition to a residential program.

A SETBACK

On the day Rose was supposed to meet the woman at the motel and facilitate getting her on a bus, the woman ended up back in the hospital with a massive panic attack.

TRY AGAIN

On the second attempt two days later, Rose successfully managed to get the woman transportation to the bus depot and on a bus to a treatment facility.

"It’s their choice. They are asking for help and we will do everything in our power to still provide the services that they still deserve," Rose said.

Rose had to carefully balance connecting with a vulnerable and broken woman while also practicing social distance.

HOPE

The woman made it to the residential program and is one step closer to a new life.

Rose says the crime hasn't stopped and neither can the outreach. There are too many lives at stake, including children.

"My beautiful survivor has now left. She’s on her bus. She’s on her way to her new beginnings," Rose said.

If you or someone you know needs help, contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

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