Human Trafficking and Exploitation

Why It Matters

Florida remains a national hub for human trafficking, ranking 3rd in the nation for reports of human trafficking. Despite having some of the strongest anti-trafficking laws in the United States, fundamental gaps remain in funding and services that provide victims immediate and longer term help and hope.

Where Florida Stands


Florida is 3rd in the nation for reports of human trafficking

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Up to half of foster children run away at least once - increasing the risk of victimization.

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One in five sex trafficked children were in foster care at the time they were victimized.


In 2022 there were 14,279 hotel citations for violations of sex trafficking laws but ZERO fines levied.

Our Priorities

Florida’s child welfare system contains deep structural problems that expose countless children to extreme risk of commercial sexual exploitation (CSE). A large contributing factor is Florida’s use of a loophole in the Family First Prevention Services Act. Florida has defined “at risk of sex trafficking” so broadly as to be severely compromised to attract additional federal funds for group homes located in dangerous, high-crime areas. This directly exposes thousands of children, mostly girls, to poor living conditions, recruitment for CSE, and predators. These conditions compound when children run away– about one-third to one-half of all children run away from foster care at least once.

Florida needs to appropriately define “risk of being trafficked” and make efforts to move these children out of high-crime group homes and into full-service crisis settings where they will receive appropriate oral, physical and mental health care along with prevention services. More must also be done to address the peer-to-peer recruitment that occurs under the current poorly-defined rules, to better supervise children who are at risk of CSE or of running away, and to address the root causes of running behavior – namely repetitive placements, overall living conditions, high turnover of case managers, and lack of comprehensive assessments of each foster child in order to align placement decisions with identified needs.

Long-term assistance to victims includes continuing clinical interventions, however, victim advocacy and assistance are also needed. Legal services in family law, employment law, public benefits access, and record expungements, including counseling and consultation for decisions to testify, are especially critical for child victims who often cannot represent or make legal decisions for themselves. More must also be done to support clinicians and specialists working with child victims, including adequate in-service training for treating child populations and commissioning research into evidence-based service frameworks. This includes supporting the employment of survivor-mentors, who play a critical role in guiding victims through recovery and reintegration.

A best practice to identify human trafficking victims is through the use of a validated screening tool. Only six states currently use one and Florida is NOT one of them. For several years, efforts have been made to improve Florida’s Human Trafficking Screening Tool (HTST) but it still remains unvalidated. Lack of a tool to identify CSE victims hinders the ability to be able to quickly and efficiently provide the aid needed, wastes important resources and may result in those needing services not receiving them. It also results in children being held in detention centers (child jails) even though Florida law exists prohibiting CSE victims from placement in those settings.

Florida policy is explicit about helping victims of human trafficking regain a normal life and deal with related trauma as quickly as possible, but gaps in its laws hinder these goals. Expunction of criminal records accrued while a victim is being trafficked is a monumental barrier facing survivors. Having a felonious criminal record makes it extremely difficult to return to a normal life: barring access to good jobs, private and government aid, and affordable housing. It also hinders for long periods of time the employment of former victims to intervene with those currently being exploited. The answer is to pass expungement laws and also speed up the background check process.

Further, without assurances that they will not be prosecuted for crimes they were forced to commit, victims and survivors of trafficking are discouraged from seeking help. They fall prey to the admonishment of their captors: “if you tell you’ll go to jail”.

Survivors need additional support in the legal process to avoid re-traumatization. Protection of victims includes minimizing the number of re-lived trauma through recitation, protecting their privacy, and being victim-centered throughout the criminal justice system. This includes classifying survivors as vulnerable victims and witnesses. This allows the courts to give extra support to survivors when they testify against their trafficker, allowing them to hold traffickers accountable without being further re-traumatized.

Policymakers have filed and passed legislation attempting to protect human trafficking victims and hold traffickers accountable for over 10 years, starting with the passage of the Safe Harbor Act in 2012. However, huge gaps remain in the laws and loopholes in enforcement make several ineffective.

Funding to combat human trafficking is fragmented and not tied to a comprehensive statewide plan for services or even based on best practice. Without sufficient funds recommended to the legislature by the executive branch, service providers by necessity approach individual legislators to include local help via “member projects” in the appropriations process. Most member projects only receive funds if presented as a “nonrecurring” budget item. As a result, funds are not guaranteed year to year, preventing projects from investing in long-term services or strategies. Considering the level of federal matching funds available for these programs, Florida leaves significant funds on the table. In the Fiscal Year of 2021-2022, DCF allocated only $3.5 million in state funds across the lead child welfare agencies to serve CSE victims. This paltry allocation was actually a reduction also of $700,000 from the previous year.

To seriously combat human trafficking, especially the exploitation of children, Florida needs to commit to investing in agency initiatives for the long term. This means placing recurring dollars in the state budget. This would provide the funding necessary to carry out the state’s policy goals, take advantage of federal matching funds, and guarantee those funds won’t be taken away with little warning or explanation.

For trafficking victims it is important that the individuals and entities responsible or complicit for their victimization are held accountable. In 2022, hotels and motels received more than 14,000 citations for violations of sex trafficking laws but none were fined as is provided in Florida law and cited with great fanfare when passed.

Accommodation industry lobbyists have pushed back against legislation to hold their own industry accountable. For example, lobbyists fight hard against any bills that would allow victims to bring suit against establishments that are responsible or complicit in human bondage.

Accommodation lobbyists did agree in law to train employees within six months of hire on how to spot and report human trafficking. But the reality of the hospitality industry doesn’t make that very impactful. Hospitality has one of the highest turnover rates – ranging from 70-80% annually. Many times employees are seasonal and not employed long enough to get training or those that are trained change jobs within the six-month window.

More needs to be done to incentivize the accommodation and hospitality industry to actively work against traffickers and protect those being trafficked.