Part I of this blog post commended Florida for its nation-leading comprehensive approach to fighting child sex trafficking. In Part II, Selah highlights the efforts over the years of the state legislation to initiate laws to raise awareness and to combat human trafficking beginning in 2004. Prior to this time, Florida did not have criminal laws expressly addressing human trafficking.
Before 2004, while laws on the books did address illegal activities associated with human trafficking, Florida did not have criminal laws explicitly addressing this issue.
The 2004 legislation established a narrow human trafficking statute, Florida Statute 787.06, which provided that any person who knowingly engages in human trafficking with the intent that the trafficked person engages in forced labor or services commits a second-degree felony. The statute defined human trafficking as “transporting, soliciting, recruiting, harboring, providing or obtaining another person for transport.” This legislation also included laws that specifically criminalized unlawfully obtaining labor or services through coercive or manipulative means, the selling or buying of minors into sex trafficking or prostitution, and engaging in acts related to sex trafficking as to any other persons. The law regarding the sale of minors into sex trafficking or prostitution required the use of “force, fraud, or coercion” against the minor for a violation. The more general sex trafficking statute classified the trafficking of a minor under fourteen as a higher-level felony.
In 2006, the Florida legislature amended Florida Statute 787.06 to add legislative findings regarding human trafficking and expand certain aspects of the statute. One conclusion explicitly recognized that human trafficking could occur for different purposes. It stated, “trafficking also occurs in forms of labor exploitation, such as domestic servitude, restaurant work, janitorial work, sweatshop factory work, and migrant agricultural work,” therefore, we find victims in several contexts. Other findings note traffickers use various means to control victims. So, the legislature added references such as using debt, confiscation or destruction of passports or other immigration documents, causing, or threatening to cause financial harm to any person, or fraud or coercion.
In 2012, Florida amended its human trafficking laws to consolidate the statutes mentioned above into Florida Statute 787.06 and made significant changes moving it closer to its current form. The consolidation meant there would now be a single human trafficking law that applied both to labor and services and commercial sexual activity. Among other significant changes, the penalties increased overall, and the legislature enhanced the penalties for sex trafficking minors. Another noteworthy change was the definition of “coercion,” an element of several trafficking offenses, which now included providing a controlled substance to a person for exploitation. It also eliminated the transport requirement and coercion when trafficking minors for commercial sexual activity.
In 2014, another amendment eliminated the coercion requirement from all trafficking offenses against minors. Additionally, the legislature amended Florida’s prostitution statutes to add a statement of intent that allows the prosecution of adults under human trafficking, sexual battery, child abuse, and obscenity laws when involving minors in acts prohibited by prostitution laws. The rationale for this statement was that prosecution under the prostitution statutes would be inappropriate in such cases since minors are unable to consent to the prohibited acts.
In 2020, Florida became the first state to address the need for child trafficking prevention education in public schools K-12. The State Board of Education unanimously approved a ruling to include education on the dangers and signs of human trafficking, requiring an implementation plan for each grade level, including the materials and resources used for instruction. In addition, it declared every school in Florida a “Child Trafficking Free Zone.” The Florida Senate followed this ruling with Senate Bill 154: Human Trafficking Education in Schools, including human trafficking education in the comprehensive health education curriculum. This bill passed unanimously in the Senate; however, it died in the House.
In 2022, The Florida House filed HB 1439, which made it through the House Commerce Committee unanimous support in early March. This bill prohibits hourly rates at hotels, motels, and vacation rentals and increases criminal penalties for purchasers or sex from a first-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony. Additionally, those purchasing sex will face additional court-ordered requirements, a minimum mandatory period of incarceration, and civil penalties. An essential creation from this bill is the Statewide Data Repository for Anonymous Human Trafficking Data. This data would increase the knowledge and understanding of the human trafficking issue, benefiting the fight to end this crime. The repository will be housed and operated by the University of South Florida Trafficking in Persons – Risk to Resilience Lab. Researchers from this lab have recently received special access to study Selah Freedom’s court diversion program, Turn Your Life Around (TYLA). This partnership will allow researchers to assist in making this already successful program even more effective.
Overall, through Selah Freedom’s partnerships with the court system, law enforcement, community, and faith partners, we act as a model for the comprehensive approach that we must take to fight the issue of sex trafficking in Florida. The progressive legislative efforts in Florida over the years prove there is work to be done and serves as a model at the state level for the nation, especially California and Texas, which rank first and second, respectively. We have seen progress, but Florida cannot fight sex trafficking alone.
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Anyone who suspects signs of sex trafficking and victims in need of help can contact Selah Freedom at: 1-888-8-FREE-ME (888-837-3363)