LAKE MARY, Fla. - Savannah Parvu is an outspoken advocate working to stop human trafficking. She knows the pain firsthand because she was once a victim.
Parvu says the abuse got worse every summer when school was out. Before she started 6th grade, she says her mother would abandon her in the worst possible way.
“Her drug dealer offered her $10 for me instead of for her. And then she got a $10 piece of crack and then he took and sold me to other people,” said Parvu.
The abuse stopped by the time she started high school. She credits her guidance counselor for saving her life.
“She was kind of closed off from the world. She was very withdrawn, and just seemed like it was just somebody I wanted on my radar,” said Beth Getchell, a Lake County teacher.
Teachers and school personnel are the number one reporters of child abuse in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. With school shutting down because of the coronavirus, reports of child abuse have dropped significantly across the state.
In Osceola County, child abuse reports are down 57% since schools closed, compared to this time last year. In Seminole County, reports are down 73%.
“It’s a huge difference that we have seen, that the teachers and the staff are aware and able to report if something is not right with these kids, and one big thing is...they’re absent a lot,” said Detective Maurice Edwards with the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office.
Detective Edwards is seeing an increase in the number of children being exploited online. According to the Department of Justice, internet sex crimes against children have more than doubled since the start of the pandemic.
“The numbers are going to continue to go up as long as kids are out of school,” said Parvu.
Parvu is now an accountant in Lake County. She has shared her story thousands of times and even helped write House Bill 851, which requires all hotel staff to be trained in how to recognized and report human trafficking.
“I try to focus, instead of on all the bad stuff that happened to me, the good that is coming from it,” said Parvu.
Since many children are not going back to school, experts say to watch out for these warning signs to spot potential victims of child abuse:
- The child appears malnourished or has visible injuries
- The child avoids making eye contact
- The child displays fear of law enforcement
- The child appears to have scripted of rehearsed answers
If you would like more information on how to spot signs of human trafficking and who to call for help visit www.FloridaAllianceEndHT.com. Additional resources can be found at the National Human Trafficking Hotline website, or you can call 1-888-373-7888.