TAMPA, Fla. — Florida ranks third in the United States for human trafficking.

January is National Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay received a $50,000 grant from ImagineCare to help more survivors. 

What You Need To Know

  • Florida ranks third in the United States for human trafficking

  • Crisis Center of Tampa Bay expanding serivces to human trafficking survivors after $50,000 grant from ImagineCare

  • January is National Human Trafficking Prevention Month

  • Human Trafficking Hotline : 1 (855) FLA-SAFE / 1 (888) 373-7888

“This will allow us to be able to expand the services that we’re able to provide, expand the hours that we’re able to provide the services, so it really is significant,” said Clara Reynolds, President & CEO of Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.

Reynolds says partnerships between organizations are essential to provide support to survivors for recovery.

Ashley Hicks knows firsthand about needing support to heal. The human trafficking survivor reached out to local services for help. Part of healing for her future includes writing about her past.

“I tell my life story how I was able to overcome childhood trauma, sexual assault and abuse, being a single mother,” said Hicks, who ran away from home at age 14.

“I am sharing things that we don’t like to talk about. We don’t want to discuss those ugly parts of us or things that we feel we are ashamed of. You know that we have guilt about, so definitely, an eye-opener,” said Hicks.

Hicks opens up about being a survivor of human trafficking in her Rebirth series, that includes volume one: Rebirth, Finding Triumph after Trauma and volume two: Possessing the Promise, which is expected to be published in February.

The mother of seven hopes to help others find triumph after trauma.

“The fear as a child and being 14, and even in my early twenties, of making them upset. I would go ahead and do whatever they were asking me to do,” said Hicks. “We are already full of fear. We have been scared for a long time, so if we finally get the courage to talk, we need a support system,” said Hicks.

Joshlyn Lawhorn and Empower Her Network are part of Ashley’s support system. The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay referred Ashley to the 12 to 18-month program.

“How can we work together to really make that survivor take those steps and create solutions for their own success?” said Lawhorn, Ashely’s advocate.

The network focuses on helping survivors find housing solutions, work with finances and establish a career.

“Essentially, she’s in the driver’s seat. What we’re doing is we’re simply supporting through a variety of different actions steps to be able to help her reach whatever goal,” said Lawhorn.

“In this journey, you have up and down days, especially when you’re remembering the past. So I’m just glad she’s part of my support system,” Hicks said.

Hicks wants to help provide that same comfort to other survivors, so she became a life coach.

“I help by encouraging them, empowering them,” said Hicks. “I give them hope. I’m a person who looks like them. I’m a person who’s been exactly where they’ve been.”

Thirty-one-year-old Jasmine Barner has been there, too.

“I’m definitely in a much better place than I was before,” said Barner.

Hicks started as Jasmine’s life coach more than one year ago. Barner, a mother of five, became a victim of human trafficking at age 13. She finds comfort in connecting with someone who can really relate.

“The biggest part was her actually experiencing what I’ve experienced,” Barner expressed.

“I’ve been to different programs. I’ve talked to different people and you can textbook it all day. You can look for the answers, but she could actually relate to me,” said Barner.

“She’s actually been there, and she made it to the other side. So it really just gave me so much more hope to know that I can do this and I’m not alone.”

By sharing their stories and offering support, they remind others that they are not alone.

The Crisis Center said the community has the power to help by becoming familiar with warning signs that can help identify victims of human trafficking:

  • Are they submissive or fearful?
  • Do they live with an employer?
  • Do they have signs of physical abuse or substance misuse?
  • Are they unable to speak when unaccompanied?
  • Do they hold their own personal identification?

If you suspect human trafficking, call: 1-855-FLA-SAFE

Spectrum News explores how you can help, in our special report, Justice for All: Out of the Shadows, airing on Spectrum Bay News 9 Feb. 7 at 8 p.m.


ImagineCareFlorida.com, or follow on X, or Facebook

Empower Her Network: www.empowerhernetwork.org  

Crisis Center of Tampa Bay & partners:

Created Women - Shelter

Treatment centers: Phoenix HouseAspire

United Way-Hotel stays/Bus tickets

Safe Housing: Selah FreedomSamaritan Village, Empowered to Change

Love Inc. - Financial