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Undercover Operation Leads To Hillsborough County Sex Trafficking Arrests

Sheriff Chad Chronister talked about the 80 arrests from Operation Trade Secrets at the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office Monday.
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office announced more than 80 arrests as the result of an ongoing sting investigation targeted at stopping sex trafficking.

Only one of the arrests during the investigation dubbed “Operation Trade Secrets” led to a sex trafficking charge. But while the majority of the arrests were for prostitution, Sheriff Chad Chronister said Monday that these operations are the only way to catch the traffickers.

“You don’t know who’s there on their own free will and accord, and who’s being forced to have sex,” said Chronister. “Do I think that more than one person we arrested was being trafficked for sex? Absolutely, unequivocally, and without a doubt.”

Chronister said the biggest issue they face with trying to figure out if someone was trafficked for sex is that many victims won’t come forward because they don’t trust anyone but their trafficker.

“The problem is, is how dysfunctional this relationship may be with this person that is forcing them to have sex, it’s the only individual they think they can trust -- trust to get them food, to get them housing, and to feed an addiction they may have,” said Chronister.

The sheriff believes a local nonprofit, , will help encourage victims of human trafficking to come forward and get assistance.

“This local nonprofit employs previous prostitutes who have turned their life around. They’ll be coming with us to help the detectives encourage victims of sex trafficking to come forward, so I believe next time the number of charges on true sex traffickers will be greater,” said Chronister.

Chronister says that operations like this show that his department takes the sex trade and human trafficking very seriously.  

“That is why it’s important to us to stop the trafficking, to target and reduce that desire, how many of us have friends around the country who think we have an open sex trade here in Tampa Bay,” asked Chronister. “There is zero tolerance, and we are cracking down on it.”

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Jeffrey Smith is a WUSF/USF Zimmerman School digital news intern for summer 2019.