Police call sex workers to offer them a way out
SARASOTA (FOX 13) - The conversations happening by phone are ones that the Sarasota Police Street Crime Unit hope will turn into a positive outcome.
"I want you to know you are not in any trouble," said an officer.
"We are just trying to reach out and let you know there are options," said another officer.
Sergeant Robert Armstrong and his unit are offering help to women who have active ads online for escort services. Many are involved in prostitution and some might have been forced into human trafficking.
This is something they have never done before.
"We get voicemail, we get hung up on. There is a variety of things that have happened in these phone calls," said Sgt. Armstrong.
The team is focused on connecting women with Selah Freedom, an organization working to help exploited women and those involved in sex trafficking.
"It's changing the entire game because prior, a girl would have to ended up in trouble... the girls now, it's almost like their rescuers have been created and are now looking for them," said Selah Freedom CEO Elizabeth Melendez-Fisher.
Officers have had more success than they imagined.
"There are a majority of women that don't want to be in that business. They are online. They had ads. There is somebody controlling them through force, fraud, coercion or drugs. There are many stories of why they are doing it," said Sgt. Armstrong.
Officers have had more success than they imagined. One woman who goes by Maria told FOX 13 over the phone she will accept the help.
"It is soulless. There is no heart. Nothing. They don't care about you or who you are. They care about one thing," she said.
Maria said she is a single mother of two, and she spent three years in prison. This was the only way she could make quick money, but she realizes she needs out.
"All I can say is, keep reaching out. Most of us don't believe there are any options or any places like that. We are so used to being judged. When you get a phone call. Somebody reaching out and helping you. Especially from the police department. It's very touching," she said.
Sarasota Police will continue their mission, one call at a time.
"I'm really glad we called you today. This could be the first day of you turning your life around and doing something positive," said Sgt. Armstrong to a woman on the phone.