Gov. Rick Scott is expected to sign into law two bills today that will crack down on human trafficking of children for sex.
HB 989 makes sweeping changes to existing laws pertaining to the sexual abuse of children, especially children who are victims of human trafficking for prostitution. The bill, which picked up unanimous votes in the House and Senate, makes changes to the Florida Safe Harbor Act to better define sexual abuse and protect court records.
The new law will also provide up to $3,000 in relocation assistance for human trafficking victims, stiffens the penalties for human trafficking of children for sex, eliminates the statute of limitations for human trafficking offenses and creates a new penalty for traffickers who permanently brand their victims.
HB 7141, sponsored by Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart,creates a framework for the assessment and treatment of prostitutes identified as victims of human trafficking. The bill, which also cleared both chambers with unanimous votes, authorizes the use of “safe houses” and safe foster homes for sexually exploited children.
The bill creates the Statewide Council on Human Trafficking with the Dept. of Legal Affairs to better coordinate efforts of law enforcement and social service agencies and requires the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability to study commercial sexual exploitation of children in Florida.
Most American victims of commercial sexual exploitation are runaway youths living on the street and become involved in prostitution to support themselves. The average age for girls is 12-14 and boys and transgender youth is 11-13, according to the U.S. Dept. of Justice.
Pimp-contr0lled commercial sexual exploitation of children is often linked to escort and massage services, private dancing, major sports and recreational events, conventions and tourist destinations. About 20 percent of these children become part of crime networks, which transport the victims around the country on cars, buses, vans and trucks.
Although the data are not exact, the U.S. Dept. of State estimates as many as 27 million victims are being trafficked worldwide at any time. The department also estimates that there were approximately40,000 victims of human trafficking in the United States in 2012. Florida is estimated to have the third highest rate of human trafficking in the United States, behind New York and California.