With January being National Human Trafficking Awareness Month, activities have been in full swing throughout the state. The Children’s Campaign interviewed Linda Alexionok, president of Voices for Florida, one of the organizing sponsors for Traffick Stop 2018 on the takeaways from the statewide event. Voices for Florida serves as the backbone organization coordinating and administrating serves to victims and survivors through the Open Doors Outreach Network pilot.
Q: How big of a problem is sex trafficking in Florida?
A: It is a persistent and pervasive crime throughout our country, and Florida is not an exception. Although progress is being made, the state ranks third in the nation for reports of human trafficking. Historically, sex trafficking has been a low-risk, high-profit crime for traffickers. But since 2012, the Legislature has enacted a series of bills that provide legal protections to sex trafficked victims while increasing penalties for those creating the demand. Today, Florida’s sex trafficking laws are among the strongest in the nation. But, to be truly effective in addressing this egregious crime, more remains to be done to break the cycle by reaching victims and helping them heal.
Q: What are the challenges that Florida is facing?
A: Inadequate services for victims and survivors is one of the largest challenges for the state. Throughout Florida, large gaps in services remain for serving the totality of needs of this vulnerable population. It’s especially prevalent for those who need emergency housing, and services for males, LGBTQ, pregnant women, intellectually disabled individuals and young parents.
Another challenge is due to the lack of evidence-based treatment models designed exclusively to assist victims of sex trafficking. As a result, victims that receive services are often placed in programs tailored for victims of other types of trauma, even though their needs differ.
In addition, victims require a variety of services such as physical and mental health care, housing, assistance navigating the legal system, educational support, public assistance and more. Therefore, coordination of cross-sector stakeholders is vital to ensure that needs are accounted for and do not overlap. Ideally, funding should follow the victims, which is rarely accomplished.
Finally, there should be standardized care for all victims and survivors throughout the state. Whether a victim is identified in Leon county or Hillsborough county, they are deserving of the same quality and standard of care from service providers. Currently, there are many gaps in quality care that need to be addressed, especially in rural areas.
Q: What does the latest research say about effective service interventions for victims of sex trafficking?
A: A recent report by the National Academy of Science regarding child sexual exploitation and sex trafficking in the United States has found very few evaluations or published reports of specific victim and support services, and even fewer peer-reviewed studies on best practices for programs serving sex trafficked victims.
However, some promising practices for serving child victims of trafficking have been identified. These include the use of survivor-mentors; assessing the individual needs of victims and ensuring access to the most suitable emergency and long-term services; facilitating communication among service providers; and preventing placement barriers through diverse treatment options and coordinated case management. In addition, the service framework should ensure that victims have individualized treatment plans, and victim assistance should be provided through trauma-competent care.
To advance the knowledge base regarding promising best practices, Voices for Florida developed a Statewide Promising Best Practice Guidelines to Support a Continuum of Services for Victims of Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking.
Q: Can sex trafficking be stopped?
A: As long as the demand to buy sex remains in this country and it continues to be a lucrative business, sex trafficking will continue to be a complex problem. Like any industry, sex trafficking is market-driven and follows the laws of supply and demand. Simply put, without demand there would be no supply. We are very encouraged by the leadership of King county in Seattle, Washington through their Operation on Demand initiative. This initiative is a large-scale effort to deter men from buying sex and is already showing reductions of commercial sexual exploitation. Forbes recently published an article about this initiative. This is one example of work being conducted to decrease demand with the hopes of eradicating the selling of our children for sex.
Q: What can the average person do to help?
A: People can help tremendously by educating themselves on the signs of trafficking and reporting suspicious activity to the National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888. Anyone who suspects the abuse or coercion of a child in Florida is a mandatory reporter. They should call the Florida Abuse Hotline immediately at 1-800-96-ABUSE. They can also support laws and policies that strengthen the state’s response to serving victims of exploitation and trafficking. I encourage everyone to stay informed on the latest progress being made by Voices for Florida Open Doors Outreach Network by subscribing to receive our updates delivered right to your inbox. Finally, people can donate to initiatives throughout the state, such as the Open Doors Outreach Network to support programs that serve this population. To make a secure donation to Open Doors, please visit our PayPal account.
Voices for Florida is a statewide nonprofit social entrepreneur organization that has focused on system innovation since its founding as the Florida Center for Children & Youth in 1975. Although its name changed in 1998, its commitment to innovation and system change remained the same. The most recent innovation to be brought forward by Voices is the Open Doors Outreach Network, a private-public partnership for improving care, coordination and collective impact for victims of exploitation and trafficking. Visit voicesforflorida.org for more information. Editor’s Note: Voices for Florida is an affiliate of The Children’s Campaign.
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