Friday, January 19, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Helping victims of sex trade

Florida's 2012 Safe Harbor Act was celebrated for ensuring that victims of sex trafficking got help rather than rap sheets. But now more restrictive trafficking bills making their way through the Legislature have created a sharp divide between lawmakers and child advocates who disagree about the best way forward. At issue is a provision that would call for the involuntary confinement of girls who are most at risk of flight. The Legislature should remove this controversial portion of the bills and keep the focus on saving girls from exploitation without doing more harm.

The Safe Harbor Act called for girls to be delivered to safe houses where they could receive shelter, treatment and a plan to establish a life outside of prostitution. The legislation was sorely needed as Florida has one of the country's highest numbers of sex trafficking victims. But operators of safe houses observed that protecting the victims from themselves has emerged as one of the biggest challenges. Many of the girls are runaways, homeless and suffer from low self-esteem — all characteristics that make them ripe for recidivism. They also have significant trust issues. Records show that 64 percent of rescued girls in a state-run pilot program ran away from secure facilities at least five times. Often they returned to their pimps or were victimized anew by strangers.

Two of the bills, SB 7088 and HB 7141, would establish standards for admitting children to safe houses and create safe foster homes. The bills' most controversial provision calls for the creation of a secure safe house, a pilot project that would restrict access 24 hours a day and provide intensive treatment for the most at-risk girls. Assignment to the 15-bed house would come after judicial review and is intended for sex trafficking victims who cannot be treated in less restrictive settings. Confinement could range from five days to 10 months.

Opponents say secure safe houses deprive girls of due process and will further traumatize them by treating them as criminals rather than victims. The bills' supporters say secure safe houses amount to tough love for a population that needs intensive help. Both sides have a point. They also have a shared goal, and they should join forces to build on the Safe Harbor Act's solid foundation. The bill's sponsor in the House, Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, plans to amend her bill today to remove the secure safe house plan. The Senate should follow suit.

There is growing evidence from respected educational institutions and experts that suggests that placing sex trafficking victims in detention is the antithesis of what they need. Legislators should examine those findings more thoroughly. There is no harm in taking the time to get this right. But lawmakers could cause significant damage if they create the wrong solution to such a complex problem.

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Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

The death last fall of a 20-year-old Florida State University fraternity pledge revealed pervasive dangerous behavior within the school’s Greek system. Andrew Coffey, a Pi Kappa Phi pledge, died from alcohol poisoning after an off-campus party, and a...
Updated: 5 hours ago

Editorial: Confronting racial distrust in St. Petersburg, one conversation at a time

The St. Petersburg Police Department’s heavy presence in Midtown on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the community animosity it stirred have raised a familiar, troubling question: Can St. Petersburg’s racial divisions ever be reconciled?That big ideal ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

A surge of Democrats seeking local legislative offices and hoping for a "blue wave" in the 2018 election continued last week, led by Bob Buesing filing to run again versus state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa.In addition:• Heather Kenyon Stahl of Tampa has...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

The smiles, applause and at least one hug belied the grim impetus for a gathering last week at a neighborhood center in Tampa — the Seminole Heights killings.The Tampa Police Department held a ceremony to thank those who helped in the investigation t...
Updated: 11 hours ago

Editorial: State’s warning shot should get attention of Hillsborough schools

The state Board of Education hopefully sent the message this week with its warning shot about the slow pace of the turnaround at Hillsborough County’s low-performing schools.The board criticized the school system for failing to replace administrators...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

The Florida Legislature’s abrupt move to strip the University of South Florida St. Petersburg of its hard-earned separate accreditation and transform it back into a satellite of the major research university lacks detail and an appreciation for histo...
Published: 01/18/18

Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

The outsourcing of logistical support services, which became commonplace in the U.S. military in the 1990s and later was adopted by state prison systems, has now come to dominate the nursing home industry. And while nursing homes, unlike the military...
Published: 01/17/18
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

A substitute teacher at a Plant City elementary school berated a class of fourth graders — and then the school principal. Another compared a student to a stripper. Others were caught napping, hitting children, making sexual remarks, giving students b...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

For the longest time, injured workers in Florida were basically at the mercy of the whims of employers to treat them fairly. A 2003 law aimed at reducing the cost of workers’ compensation coverage for businesses had the desired impact, but it also di...
Published: 01/16/18