Human Trafficking & Exploitation: The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Youth
American Children’s Campaign and other organizations worked tirelessly for three years to help pass Florida’s landmark Safe Harbor legislation in 2012. Work has continued each subsequent legislative session to strengthen and expand laws impacting victims of trafficking. 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.
Open Doors Outreach Network Expands Reach and Improves Services
Florida ranks third in the nation for reports of human trafficking. The Open Doors Outreach Network is a promising, 24/7 network of care for commercially sexually exploited and trafficked children and young adults up to age 24. The Open Doors model was envisioned by two Florida organizations–the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center and American Children’s Campaign.
The Open Doors Outreach Network currently provides services in 32 counties in six Florida regions- Northeast Florida, North Coastal, Big Bend, Central Florida, Suncoast and Southwest Florida- with plans to expand statewide. This program aims to increase care coordination by offering immediate and ongoing care to victims through a highly trained Open Doors team of professionals consisting of survivor-mentors, regional advocates and clinicians.
Law Changes Needed for Survivors to Work Where They’re Most Needed
The backbone of the Open Doors Outreach Network is survivor-mentors, who bring an invaluable perspective to victims struggling to break free from traffickers. However, laws must be changed to allow survivors of sex trafficking to work in the programs where they are most needed. While under the influence of traffickers, victims can engage in illegal activities. If incorrectly charged with these crimes, background checks can become roadblocks to employment once they are free from their traffickers.
The current law shows that the intent of the legislature is for crimes committed while being sex trafficked should not have lifelong impact on the victim – but policies will need to be changed to put that intent into action. Steps have been taken to allow for confidentiality between survivor/mentors and victims, and to make it easier for victims of human trafficking to expunge their records for certain crimes committed while they were being trafficked. Unfortunately, even though the victims were under control of the trafficker and the state has acknowledged that victims of trafficking are not criminals, there continue to be offenses that can not be expunged. This hurts the trafficking survivor’s future and forces them to continue to experience negative impacts from their time as a victim.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Increase Likelihood of Becoming a Victim
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.
Children of color are more likely than their White counterparts to be vulnerable to traffickers. An estimated 51,000 Florida Black and Latinx students are homeless; Latinx children in Florida are less likely to have received treatment for mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral issues than their white peers (37.5% to 44%); Black children in the child welfare system are disproportionately housed in facility-based group homes (34%) and less likely to achieve permanency through adoption than their white counterparts (23% compared to 65%). In Florida between 2009 and 2015 Black and Lantinx youth made up 62.9% of reported Human Trafficking Cases.
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.
- Oppose locking up dependent child victims of abuse, neglect, trafficking and other traumas. These children have often been underserved by the state’s child welfare and juvenile justice systems due to lack of needed services and resources. Removing their freedom continues to victimize children who have already suffered.
- Continue support of Open Doors Outreach Network: The Open Doors Outreach Network is a promising, public-private partnership designed to improve care, coordination and collective impact of services for commercially sexually exploited and trafficked youth. General revenue dollars appropriated bring down four additional dollars in victim assistance funds.
- Protect trafficking survivors by holding traffickers accountable: Add human trafficking victims to the “vulnerable victims and witnesses” designation in Florida Statutes. This provides protections during trial proceedings and supports efforts to hold their trafficker accountable without additional negative impact to their well-being
- Amend or pass new legislation improving human trafficking laws: Include expunging or providing more seamless exemptions for background checks for survivors, facilitating employment in livable wage jobs, including working with victims; require human trafficking education in secondary schools.
- Require statewide report on human trafficking: Mandate a statewide comprehensive report on the service needs of the trafficked population and a plan to provide them.
Recent updates to Florida law allow for the safety of human trafficking victims and advocates when sharing their experiences by creating privileged communication. The changes remove fee requirements, as well as allow victims to expunge multiple criminal charges off of their record that occurred while they were involuntarily trafficked. The criminalization of traffickers is expanded by including intent to traffic a child under 18 regardless of the age of the victim to the list of human trafficking offenses, as well as requiring traffickers to register as sex offenders.
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