When Tampa Bay hosted the Super Bowl, we not only had to prepare for the thousands of tourists embarking on the NFL fan experience, we also had to guard against criminals who seek to exploit large events. Specifically, human traffickers.
Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies worked together over the past year to increase both public awareness and support to victims seeking help. But even with the precautions, there were still more than 75 arrests of johns or pimps, leading up to this year’s Super Bowl. Since 2007, Florida has responded to more than 4,600 reported cases of human trafficking that have led law enforcement to rescuing more than 12,400 victims across the state.
It is our duty as elected officials to serve our community and protect the most vulnerable. That’s why I have filed House Bill 523. This legislation takes a comprehensive approach to eradicate human trafficking in Florida.
The bill replaces a patchwork of human trafficking initiatives that vary in cost and efficacy with a statewide victim advocate program run through the attorney general’s office. The statewide training will resemble the training offered to sexual assault counselors; and the bill provides privileged communications between the victim and an advocate.
Addressing another barrier victim’s face when trying to get their life back together is related to the records they hold as a result of being trafficked for crimes that were dropped or ruled not guilty. It is time we expedite the expungement process and stop treating victims like criminals by allowing survivors to buy a home, get a job, or receive an education.
The final piece of this legislation targets the traffickers themselves; it allows the state to assume the role of a victim during deposition in order to protect the victim reliving their trauma and prevent the abuser from getting away with the crime.
The legislative bodies in Florida are in a position where they can change the lives of so many victims, and potential victims. This legislation addresses trafficking victims’ recidivism by building a support network, eliminating barriers to a successful future, and locking up the perpetrators who have committed these heinous acts.
We must use our voices to stand up for the voiceless, which is why I have filed House Bill 523 and want everyone to support it.
Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, represents District 60 in the Florida Legislature.