The Good and Not-So-Good News About Florida’s Anti-Trafficking Response.
First, the good news: Florida leads the nation in a comprehensive approach to addressing child sex trafficking, according to the latest annual scorecard by Shared Hope International and the Institute for Justice and Advocacy.
The not-so-good news? Florida only scored a C. In addition, 40 out of 50 states received an F grade and 10 states received a D.
When Shared Hope International began releasing its annual state report card ten years ago, it created a legal framework to challenge states to enact comprehensive responses to address child sex trafficking. The latest report card assesses not just criminal provisions, but also the identification and response to victims, continuum of care, access to justice for survivors, tools for victims through states’ criminal justice system, and prevention and training efforts.
“While Florida has made significant progress in its anti-trafficking response since American Children’s Campaign advocacy for passing the Safe Harbor Act in 2012, there’s serious work to be addressed,” stated Roy Miller, president of the organization. “Gaps in services, unstable funding, lack of resources and expungement laws are a few of the many top shelf needs to pave the way for survivor recovery.”
More Trauma-Informed Services for Child Victims Needed
Florida’s need to continue expanding its anti-trafficking efforts comes with urgency, as the state still ranks third in reports of human trafficking nationwide. Some estimates show human trafficking has risen by an astounding 40% since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Children face a high risk according to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. The increased amount of time online due to school closures only increased children’s exposure risk to traffickers.
Trauma-informed services are centered on a deep understanding of how pervasive trauma can be and promote environments of healing and recovery that avoid inadvertent re-traumatization. Florida’s largest network of trauma-informed services for child victims of sex trafficking is Voices for Florida Open Doors Outreach Network. Now in its fifth year of providing services, Open Doors has helped more than 1,300 victims since services began in 2017. Open Doors services are currently available in 33 Florida counties. Voices for Florida’s goal is to expand services to 42 counties by the end of 2022, which would extend service availability to 83% of the population in Florida.
Allowing More Survivors to Work where They’re Most Needed Requires Law Changes
Because they understand the experience of sexual exploitation as no one else can, the employment of survivor-mentors is a promising best practice in helping child victims of sex trafficking on their journey to recovery. However, laws must be changed to allow many survivors of sex trafficking to be hired to do this work. A big roadblock is background checks. Victims of sex trafficking are forced to engage in illegal activities by their traffickers.
While the legislative intent of current law is for crimes committed while being sex trafficked to not have lifelong impact on victims, policies need to be changed to turn that intent into action. Steps have been taken to allow for confidentiality between survivor-mentors and victims, and to make it easier for victims of human trafficking to expunge their records of certain crimes.
Unfortunately, many offenses at this time are ineligible for expungement even though the state has acknowledged that victims are not criminals. This ultimately hurts the survivor’s future as it limits their employability in a range of professions. Obviously, this is very detrimental.
How You Can Help
- Oppose locking up dependent child victims of abuse, neglect, trafficking and other traumas. These children have often been underserved by the state’s child welfare and juvenile justice systems due to lack of needed services and resources. Removing their freedom continues to victimize children who have already suffered.
- Urge continued support of Open Doors Outreach Network: The Open Doors Outreach Network is Florida’s largest network of 24/7 trauma-informed care for commercially sexually exploited and trafficked children and young adults aged 10 – 24. State general revenue dollars appropriated attract large pots of additional victim assistance funds.
- Protect trafficking survivors by holding traffickers accountable. Human trafficking victims should be added to the “vulnerable victims and witnesses” designation in Florida Statutes. This provides protections during trial proceedings and supports efforts to hold their trafficker accountable without additional negative impact to their well-being
- Support the passage of new or updated laws that help victims. Law changes needed include expunging or providing more seamless exemptions to background checks for survivors; facilitating employment in livable wage jobs, including working with victims; health care and providing long term safe housing as the survivor moves along the path to full recovery.
- Require statewide report on service needs of human trafficking victims. Not only is a statewide comprehensive report needed, but also a plan to provide the services.
To learn more or take action, please visit https://iamforkids.org/childtrafficking/
For more information about Open Doors Outreach Network, visit https://voicesforflorida.org/donate/.
This Top Story is brought to you by Andrea Bonsignori, Roy Miller and Karen Bonsignori