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Survivor Of Human Trafficking Speaks Out Against 'Modern-Day Slavery'

She is an adult survivor of human trafficking, and she is telling her story to empower women across the globe.Telisia Espinosa was born and raised in an abusive home in Miami.

"The abuse was sexual, mental and physical," she said.

By the age of twelve, she was living a promiscuous lifestyle as a direct result of having been sexually abused by three different men before she was ten.

Telisia grew up to be sold on street corners across the country.

"I finally walked away when I got the courage to tell my pimp I couldn't do this anymore," she said. "He left and found two new girls that day, and I never saw him again."

Telisia now lives in Tampa, Florida where she is an advocate for victims of sex trafficking.

Human trafficking is both a local and a global problem; Florida ranks third nationally in the number of calls received by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s hotline.

To raise awareness, Jacksonville University has teamed with ArtWorks For Freedom and other groups for a series of events across the area this month, including screening of the film Not My Life tonight.

Telisia Espinosa will speak at 7 p.m. before Not My Life in JU's Gooding Auditorium.

The event will also include a brief dance performance titled These We Don’t See by members of Jacksonville’s Chelsea James School of Performing Arts.

Jacksonville University sociology professor Nathan Rousseau and local attorney Crystal Freed, both members of the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission, are helping to organize the awareness campaign, which is sponsored by the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center and Florida Coastal School of Law Foundation. Organizing partner is The Freed Firm.

“People have a false sense of how slavery has evolved,” Rousseau said. “It’s changed, but it’s very much alive. Millions of people are stuck in it. It’s often young kids and women kidnapped and brought to other places and forced to engage in practices against their will and with no pay, sometimes until they are dead. The nature of slavery has changed, but it is still slavery.”

About 2.5 million people are in forced labor at any given time as a result of trafficking, and more than 9 out of 10 suffer physical or sexual violence, according to the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking. Annual global profits made from the forced labor are about $32 billion–with up to $12 billion of that in the U.S. alone.

“I’d like to have our students more aware of the topic of slavery itself, because our rank as a high-risk state means they may know someone who is a victim,” Rousseau said.

“This issue brings to light for me more than any other how barbaric humanity still is. It’s a symptom of how little we have progressed despite all our technology and knowledge.”

Tonight (2/13) at 8 p.m. WJCT presents First Coast Forum: Human Trafficking, an in-depth look at the issue with local leaders. The event will be simulcast on WJCT TV and WJCT-FM.

You can follow Melissa Ross on Twitter @MelissainJax.

Melissa Ross joined WJCT in 2009 with 20 years of experience in broadcasting, including stints in Cincinnati, Chicago, Orlando and Jacksonville. During her career as a television and radio news anchor and reporter, Melissa has won four regional Emmys for news and feature reporting.