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For Jacksonville Human Trafficking Attorney Crystal Freed, Service Is Rooted In Violent Past

headshot of Crystal Freed
Crystal Freed

Jacksonville attorney Crystal Freed is a nationally recognized leader in human trafficking advocacy.

After growing up in Trinidad and Tobago, she came to the U.S. as a “dreamer,” the daughter of an undocumented worker.

Now, for the first time, she’s sharing how her own violent childhood inspired her life’s mission: to help sex and labor-trafficking survivors.

Freed said giving back to human trafficking victims is rooted in a violent childhood. Her earliest memory:  “My parents’ fighting, and they weren’t just fighting with words. It was physical.”

And though she was never sexually abused, Freed said her own experience with trauma helps her relate to the victims she serves today.

“My dad was a philanderer and my mom, obviously, she was hurt by that, and every time she would find out about it and she would ask him about it he would not be truthful,” Freed said.

She said the ensuing fights would lead to his becoming “physically abusive to the point that she had a permanent restraining order against him.”

“It was that bad. We’re talking broken ribs and blood. It was a terrible scene,” she said.

child photo of Freed
Credit Crystal Freed
Crystal Freed grew up in Trinidad and Tobago.

Her family moved to South Florida following an attempted coup in Trinidad and Tobago in 1990.

For the first time, Freed said, she realized she had rights.

“I called the police one time. This was after he was — I was bleeding — so they came and he was arrested,” she said.

But the cycle of violence at home continued. Feeling trapped, she ran away, and when her parents found her, they sent her to a group home.

“They wanted to teach me a lesson, and they checked me into a place that was a place for truants, and I was so scared, so, so very scared because these were bad kids,” she said.

After she went back home, she attempted suicide. Twice.

“I don’t understand why I was not successful because I took an immense amount of pills, and all that happened was I had a headache and slept it off. I kept asking God, ‘Why can’t I just escape?’”

At 18 she did escape, to college. She also worked three jobs and went on to law school.

She said her strong faith helped her find her calling and break from the past. A decade ago, she devoted her law practice to representing sex and labor trafficking survivors — for free.

“The work that I do, there is a compulsion to do it because I know I was saved,” she said. “And you can’t be saved and not give back.”

Using a “victim-centered approach,” she said she first takes care of clients’ immediate needs, whether that’s food or shelter. She only talks about legal options if clients want that.  

Her message to human trafficking victims: “God sees you and God loves you. And there are an army of people who are trying to find you. Hang in there. It’s going to be a long road, but you’re going to emerge not just a survivor but a thriver.”

So far, she said she’s helped more than a dozen victims on their own paths to freedom.