Florida is one of the nation's prime destinations for sex traffickers. But thanks to a bill signed into law this month by Gov. Rick Scott, victims of this abhorrent practice now have more hope for a better life. The Florida Safe Harbor Act protects victims of sex trafficking from criminal prosecution, clearing the way for them to be taken to safe houses. It is a good first step for a state that needs to take further measures to curb the modern-day slave trade.
Human trafficking is a growing national problem. Every state has seen reported cases, but Florida is the third most popular destination for traffickers, behind only California and Texas. Most of the trafficking is labor-intensive — both outdoors and indoors. But sex trafficking is the most underreported form, with traffickers generally preying on runaway teenage girls. The Safe Harbor Act creates a structure by which law enforcement can deliver victims to safe houses instead of putting them in jail, effectively treating them as victims, not delinquents.
The new law addresses a crucial difficulty faced by victims of sex trafficking. A recent report from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center showed that the most common, urgent request among the more than 10,000 people who called its national hotline in 2011 was the need for shelter. The new Florida law paves the way for that service to the youngest and most vulnerable victims of sex trafficking, who would otherwise enter the criminal justice system.
But more needs to be done. The Legislature should pass additional measures aimed at freeing victims and punishing traffickers. It should also work to raise public awareness. An increase in reporting would result in more operations being broken up, bringing traffickers to justice and victims to safe houses.
The Safe Harbor Act is a positive development in the fight against human trafficking. But it should not be the last. Giving victims the protection they deserve is just a first step.