The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Youth

Florida passed its landmark Safe Harbor legislation in 2012 and has followed up with even stronger laws. These laws recognize that commercially sexually exploited children (CSEC) are victims – not criminals – and encourage understanding and therapeutic treatment rather than prosecution, court sanctions or jail.

Sex traffickers prey on children with low self-esteem and minimal support systems. Children who are homeless, suffering with mental health problems, in foster care or past or current victims of abuse and neglect are especially vulnerable. Sexual exploitation trauma requires effective emergency response, specific and high-level treatment with the consent and voluntary cooperation of the victim and a coordinated system of care. Service identification and navigation by truly knowledgeable staff and volunteers is absolutely necessary.

Unfortunately, strong laws in Florida have not translated into readily available, consistent and coordinated services for victims. Law enforcement, providers and families are continuously challenged in locating appropriate interventions and placements when a child victim is identified or recovered.

Florida’s First Pilot of a Promising, Coordinated System Model

In 2016, initial funding was allocated for Open Doors: a promising, direct service and coordinated system model designed for sexually exploited and trafficked youth, mostly ages 10-24. Open Doors was adapted from the experiences of other states and based on meticulous research. This program will increase care coordination by developing and implementing emergency response and assistance led by survivor mentors, screening, individualized total care management and assessments, safety planning, victim support, extensive and on-going training, public awareness and collaboration.

The goal of the Open Doors pilot program is to improve direct victim assistance while coordinating existing services to increase utilization and improve delivery. The project will target five regions with plans to expand statewide.


  • Continue support of Open Doors: The 2016 Florida Legislature earmarked $500,000 in general revenue funding with an additional $2.5 million in federal VOCA funds to launch Open Doors. This is the state’s first coordinated system model of promising practices to immediately and expertly serve this population, but continuity and expansion of funding will be needed.
  • Adhere to the original intent of Safe Harbor laws: Survivors of sexual exploitation and trafficking must continue to be treated as victims rather than criminals.
  • Ensure that funding follows the child, rather than allocating resources by formula or silos: Victims need multiple levels of services and better use of all available funds will address the significant gaps that currently exist.

What The Children’s Campaign is Saying…

Additional Resources

Disclaimer: These links to third-party websites are provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only. They do not constitute an endorsement or approval by The Children’s Campaign or its affiliate organizations and partners.

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