1. Florida Politics

Lawmakers move to ramp up Florida's response to human trafficking

Published Mar. 4, 2015

TALLAHASSEE — Targeting what one senator described as a "sick but profitable criminal enterprise,'' lawmakers have started moving to ramp up Florida's response to human trafficking.

One proposal (HB 465/SB 1108) would increase penalties for "soliciting, inducing, enticing or procuring another to commit prostitution." Another (HB 457/SB 698) would dedicate funding from a "Safe and Free Florida" specialty license tag to victim services.

A third proposal (SB 534/HB 369) would require the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline number to be posted "in all Florida transportation hubs."

"Human trafficking is a sick but profitable criminal enterprise that affects up to 300,000 children and many young adults in the United States each year," Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican and sponsor of SB 534, said in a prepared statement last week. "SB 534 will get more of these cases reported and hopefully help put an end to this widespread practice of modern-day slavery."

Florida ranks among the top three states for human trafficking. And as more about the crime has become known, the state has toughened its laws. Last year Florida earned a B in a study of state trafficking laws by the American Center for Law & Justice and Shared Hope International, an advocacy group.

Virtually everyone involved in the state's response agrees that community awareness has grown exponentially over the past few years.

"It's becoming a hot topic," said Zachary Hughes, a detective with the Marion County Sheriff's Office. "The community wants to be involved."

But Hughes also warned that the state network of victim services is far from adequate.

"The response is very, very regionalized," he said.

On Monday, when the Statewide Council on Human Trafficking met at the Capitol, the panel heard a report that recommended a more coordinated system of care.

"Currently Florida's system is somewhat fragmented," Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Christy Daly said.

According to the report, conducted by the Department of Juvenile Justice and the Department of Children and Families, there are about 180 known survivors of sexually exploitation in the foster-care system. During federal fiscal year 2013-2014, 31 were referred for specialized services, but no safe houses or safe foster homes were available.

The report also recommended specialized victim advocates and a much wider array of services for trafficking survivors — including treatment for substance abuse, mental health and medical needs.

"It is important to know that the council was not charged to look at funding," Daly said. "But one of our biggest challenges is funding. Often these programs are very expensive."

Miami-Dade County State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle asked the council to consider backing a proposal to extend eligibility for services to victims who are 18 and older.

"What we're finding in our community is that for the young girls, under the age of 18, we have a very good safety net. DCF's doing a great job," she said. "But what happens if that same girl turns 18 years old? We cannot find a place to help her get out of the brutal environment she's been in."

Both Rundle and Hughes of the Marion County Sheriff's Office emphasized that sex-trafficking victims tend to enter the life at 13 or 14, often due to abuse or poverty at home. Both said that victims become "trauma-bonded" to their abusers — and are often badly beaten and addicted.

"We've got to break that bond," Hughes said. "Abuse becomes normal. They don't know what a healthy relationship is."

But to provide that healing response, experts agree, more services are needed.

"We know there's not enough shelter and housing," said Robin Hassler Thompson, a Tallahassee lawyer affiliated with the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights at Florida State University. "The challenge about human trafficking is that it is vast. We've got a whole range of needs and a whole range of victims."

Hassler Thompson recently helped establish a nonprofit called the Survive and Thrive Advocacy Center for trafficking victims within the 2nd Judicial Circuit in North Florida.


  1. Tampa Bay Times Tampa Bay Times
    Republican Party of Florida chairman Joe Gruters and Florida Democratic Party chairwoman Terrie Rizzo will join Times Political Editor Steve Contorno for a Nov. 6 event.
  2. Lev Parnas, center, leaves federal court following his arraignment, Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019 in New York. Parnas and Igor Fruman are charged with conspiracy to make illegal contributions to political committees supporting President Donald Trump and other Republicans. Prosecutors say the pair wanted to use the donations to lobby U.S. politicians to oust the country's ambassador to Ukraine. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan) MARK LENNIHAN  |  AP
    Appearing with their attorneys, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman said they will fight allegations in a grand jury indictment that they used a shell company to secretly steer hundreds of thousands of dollars...
  3. -
    A report presented to the Senate panel showed a variety of causes of deaths, including inmate-on-inmate assaults and suicides.
  4. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., attends an executive session of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) SUSAN WALSH  |  AP
    The senator drew backlash for the claim on ABC’s “The View.”
  5. Herman Lindsey, a former death row inmate who was exonerated, holds a letter that he and other wrongfully convicted men delivered Tuesday to the office of Gov. Ron DeSantis, asking him to stop the execution of James Dailey. Witness to Innocence
    Former death row inmates delivered a letter to the governor’s office Tuesday asking him to stay the execution of James Dailey over questions of innocence. DeSantis won’t budge.
  6. Former sheriff of Broward County Scott Israel, right, and his attorney Benedict Kuehne wait their turn to speak to the Senate Rules Committee concerning his dismissal by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday in Tallahassee. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon) STEVE CANNON  |  AP
    The vote is expected to be seen as a political victory for the governor and validation for the families of the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.
  7. Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, speaks on the floor of the Florida House. Grall is sponsoring a bill for the second time that would require parental consent for minors to obtain an abortion.
    The legislation would enact a consent requirement for minors.
  8. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. "OCTAVIO JONES   |   TIMES"  |  Times
    He could use his position on the Board of Clemency to allow nonviolent felons to serve on juries and run for office.
  9. Rep. Bruce Antone, D-Orlando, says the Legislative Black Caucus will prioritize both public education and school choice during the 2020 Florida session. The caucus held a news conference on Oct. 22, 2019. The Florida Channel
    The caucus announced its 2020 goals for justice, housing and other key issues, as well, with members saying they will stick together to pursue them.
  10. CHRIS URSO   |   Times
Florida Governor elect Ron DeSantis, right, thanks supporters including Ukrainian businessman Lev Parnas, left, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 in Orlando. DeSantis defeated Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum. CHRIS URSO  |  Times
    This new fact indicates an attempt to directly influence DeSantis’ early policy agenda as he took office, one that DeSantis said was unsuccessful.