'Modern-day slavery' operation uncovered, authorities say - FOX 13 News

'Modern-day slavery' operation uncovered, authorities say

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CLEARWATER (FOX 13) -

Two men have been arrested in what authorities are calling a modern-day slavery operation.

Peter D. Kitt, 41, and Shawn D. Franklin, 42, have been charged with sexual assault and racketeering.

Investigators say the two men were bringing women to Pinellas County, beating and sexually assaulting them and hooking them on drugs.

They say 16 women have identified as victims; all have been rescued, according to Clearwater Police Chief Anthony Holloway. They are between 21 and 30 years old, authorities said.

Other suspects are being sought in the case; multiple agencies are involved in the investigation.

"This is a devastating and heart-breaking crime," said Attorney General Pam Bondi. "They're trapped in the hands of the perpetrators who care nothing for them except to exploit them."

Investigators say the suspects used Facebook to recruit women into prostitution. Then they allegedly trained them at a brothel before sending them out to clients at hotels and motels throughout the Tampa Bay area.

This case hits home for other human trafficking victims like Connie Rose. She recently described how she was coerced into prostitution by her father.

"I was trafficked for almost four years," she said. "He had total, total mind control over me."

It's the kind of control authorities say Kitt and Franklin had over their victims. We're told they got the women addicted to drugs, then made them stay by beating them or threatening to kill them.

Rose says it's hard to recover from that kind of abuse.

That's where groups like Redefining Refuge come into play. During a fundraiser Friday night to help victims, its organizer said these women will have to find a new normal -- and it won't be easy.

"Every girl is going to have a different level of trauma, and depending their level of trauma, depends on the restoration process and how quickly they'll be able to transition back into normalcy."

Frankin and Kitt are each being held on $1 million bond. Other suspects are being sought in the case; multiple agencies are involved in the investigation.

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