State Leaders Vow to Crack Down on Human Trafficking
September 26, 2012 | WMFE - Recent statistics show Florida is among the third highest trafficking destination in the country. The Florida Attorney General's Office says that's partly due to the state's tourist driven economy and close proximity to Caribbean and Latin American countries. Leaders from state government agencies, law enforcement and social service organizations are gathering in Tallahassee this week for Florida's first Human Trafficking Summit.
Human trafficking victims are often forced into hard labor or prostitution and statistics show half of the victims in Florida are children.
State officials say thousands of young people in the state are at risk of sexual exploitation and many are being trafficked in their own communities.
Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins says he used to think human trafficking was something that happened in other parts of the world until he realized that children under his own department’s care were in danger of being victimized.
“I’ve now seen it first hand with a lot of foster children in our state, and unfortunately, this industry has targeted our foster children,” said Wilkins.
Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters says rescued victims need both immediate and long term help to recover from the abuse.
“For a human being to endure what they are enduring, to come out of this with any fight whatsoever shows a spirit of a survivor,” Walters said. “We must have everything we need in place to give them what they need to get out of that situation.”
Expert say many of the victims are young women from poor countries who are lured by the promise of a better life. The women are then forced to work for little or no pay as prostitutes or domestic laborers and in massage parlors, restaurants and nail salons.
Florida lawmakers approved harsher penalties for traffickers this year and more treatment centers are being made available to victims.