The month of January is dedicated to raising awareness of human trafficking. But, the Florida House and the Senate want to make awareness a year round effort.
Brittney Liburd is a child sex abuse survivor. However, according to her, surviving is only half the battle.
“Well it’s rough, and it’s confusing. And, if you are not helped, you can end up making a lot of terrible choices and relive your experiences every day. For me it was 16 years, but if there was a FDWO, maybe it would have been 16 hours,” she says.
Liburd is now the program director of the Female Development World Organization, or FDWO. Organizations like these create a support system for victims of abuse, and in recent years, they have been putting a lot of that effort towards victims of human trafficking. While many people think of slavery as a thing of the past, experts say modern day slavery, in the form of human trafficking, is a booming business. The International Labor Organization estimates that forced labor through human trafficking generates around $150-billion dollars as an industry.
“Ladies and Gentlemen I want you to understand that of all the crimes in the world, human trafficking is number one cash business. More than drugs, more than weapons. The trafficking in human lives,” Maria Sachs says.
Former State Senator Maria Sachs is the founder of the Coalition Against Human Trafficking. Sachs spoke at a press conference Monday that introduced House Bill 159 and Senate Bill 596. Both Bills address the rising rate of human trafficking in Florida by not only raising awareness of trafficking tactics through educational campaigns, but by also requiring the Attorney General’s Office to establish a statewide toll-free human trafficking report hotline. What sets this hotline apart from other child abuse hotlines in Florida is it will primarily focus on human trafficking.
Florida is third in the nation in reported human trafficking incidents. Bills like these, according to Rep. Robert Asencio (D-Miami) could combat that by informing the public and offering a direct line to law enforcement.
“I will tell you that it was a constant struggle to educate our members of law enforcement on the signs of these predators. I can’t tell you how awful it is, firsthand knowledge, to come and encounter a child who has been victimized, a family who has been victimized. And often, family members, those most closest to them, one, don’t know the signs, or worst yet, have no way to report,” Asencio says.
Under the legislation, reports made to the hotline would immediately go to law enforcement agencies for investigation. Former U.S. Attorney Pamela Marsh believes this can help law enforcement narrow down future trafficking cases and turn the tides against the industry.
“Which will make it easier for investigators to get those tips for Floridians to report the crimes. And it may increase law enforcements ability to investigate, track down good evidence. Support these victims so that they can become witnesses, and give the testimony that’s necessary to put the perpetrator behind bars,” Marsh says.
Both the House and Senate Bills are waiting to be heard in their first committee.