Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

New state laws will ease toll on human-trafficking victims

CLEARWATER — Ten years after Telisia Espinosa had broken free, her life on the lam with the boyfriend who had urged her to sell her body for cash continued to haunt her.

From Las Vegas to Cleveland to Florida, Espinosa had racked up arrests for prostitution, loitering, solicitation — so many charges that, years later, it would take her months to track down all the arrest warrants she didn't even realize she had.

"You have a person who sells you and exploits you," said Espinosa, a 37-year-old Tampa woman whose record has barred her from jobs and even from volunteering with the human trafficking victims whose stories match her own. "They may have a slap on the wrist and then you're paying for it with the rest of your life."

That will all change today.

Gov. Rick Scott is due this afternoon at the Drug Free America Foundation in St. Petersburg to, among other things, sign two human-trafficking bills into law.

The legislation will allow victims to petition the court to have human trafficking-related arrests and convictions expunged from their records. One section would allow victims up to age 16 to submit an out-of-court statement rather than testify in open court.

On Wednesday, experts attending a three-day human trafficking summit in Clearwater hosted by the International Association of Human Trafficking Investigators applauded the new laws, which they say will address the "masking charges" — drugs, truancy, shoplifting and, most often, prostitution — that victims accumulate at the hands of their exploiters and finally give them the confidence to reveal themselves to law enforcement.

"That's the logic of this new law — we need to scratch below the surface to see if this offense was committed as a result of their being trafficked," said Terry Coonan, executive director of Florida State University's Center for the Advancement of Human Rights.

Added IAHTI executive director Jeremy Lewis: "I personally believe this bill will give victims a second shot at life — to get jobs, go to college, vote, become productive members of society."

The summit drew more than 160 people who learned what signs to look for and who to call to help law enforcement find traffickers, victims and johns.

Trafficking has become a hot topic in Tampa Bay, where law enforcement this month reported busts of two separate sex rings within days of each other. Authorities say pimps used Backpage.com to advertise the services of teen runaways or women they recruited from local strips clubs and forced into prostitution.

Coonan said Florida, No. 3 for trafficking behind California and New York, has slowly been strengthening its laws.

For example, lawmakers last year raised fines for johns from $50 to $5,000 in an effort to deter the people who drive demand.

Florida Department of Juvenile Justice human trafficking director Tyson Elliott said his agency has added new questions to its intake assessment to find victims who are booked on charges unrelated to prostitution. For example, traffickers sometimes brand their victims with tattoos, so evaluators who notice a youth's ink will ask its meaning and who paid for it.

However, he and others said there's a lack of trauma therapists to treat victims once they are identified. Also lacking are safe houses, toiletries and other resources to help those rescued.

"In the state as a whole, that's one of the most glaring needs we have — what to do with (victims) and who to refer them to once we've identified them," he said.

New state laws will ease toll on human-trafficking victims 05/29/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 29, 2013 9:55pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Lightning's Mathieu Joseph on the rise at development camp

    Blogs

    BRANDON — The last 12 months have been quite the ride for Mathieu Joseph.

    Mathieu Joseph checks Carolina's Jake Bean during a preseason game in September in Tampa.
  2. Pinellas legislators talk governor's race, policy at delegation breakfast

    Blogs

    If anybody was expecting state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, to quit being coy and and announce his bid for the 2018 governor's race to the friendly crowd at Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce's annual legislative delegation breakfast Wednesday, they left disappointed.

  3. DOT shows alternatives to former Tampa Bay Express toll lanes

    Transportation

    TAMPA — State transportation officials are evaluating at least a half-dozen alternatives to the controversial Tampa Bay interstate plan that they will workshop with the community for the next 18 months.

    Florida Department of Transportation consultant Brad Flom explains potential alternatives to adding toll lanes to Interstate 275 during a meeting Wednesday at DOT's Tampa office. Flom presented seven diagrams, all of which swapped toll lanes for transit, such as light rail or express bus, in the I-275 corridor from downtown Tampa to Bearss Ave. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON | Times]
  4. Florida Orchestra and Tampa Bay Master Chorale scrap search for a joint conductor

    Stage

    TAMPA — After a yearlong effort, the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay and the Florida Orchestra have abandoned their search for a conductor capable of leading both groups.

    Doreen Rao conducts a concert with the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus and Orchestra in December 2010. Photo by Enid Bloch.
  5. New in theaters July 4 weekend: 'Despicable Me 3,' 'Baby Driver,' 'The House,' 'The Beguiled'

    Movies

    OPENING Thursday:

    DESPICABLE ME 3

    One of Hollywood's most successful animation franchises isn't about "me" anymore; it's about them.

    Gru (Steve Carell) squares off against Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker) in Despicable Me 3.