Stakeholders Highlight Human Trafficking Fight At Summit
A two-day summit aimed at continuing the fight against human trafficking in Florida kicked off Thursday morning at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
Among those attending are stakeholders from state agencies, along with Gov. Rick Scott and Florida's Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Bondi said that tougher legislation has been passed and there's now much more awareness of human trafficking.
"We've partnered with the truckers, the trucking industry,” Bondi said. “Where do you take a little girl to traffick her? A truck stop. The truckers are now our eyes and ears at truck stops. How amazing is that?"
Bondi added that emergency room doctors across the state are now being trained to spot the signs of human trafficking as well.
She said the Statewide Council on Human Trafficking is working with legislators, churches, junior leagues and other private organizations to fund more safe houses for victims.
Safe houses provide education, counseling and support for victims of human trafficking.
Scott said money is set aside in the state budget each year to fight what he and others call "modern day slavery.”
"In our budget last year, there was money for five safe houses right here in the Tampa area,” Scott said.
Bondi referenced several recent Florida cases involving human trafficking.
Collier County Sheriff deputy discovered a victim during a routine traffic stop. The investigation identified six women smuggled into the country, after being promised legal jobs, then forced into sex work.
In another case, a 58-year-old man from Indiana was arrested by the Orlando Police Department for purchasing two minors for sex. That same month, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office arrested 21 people involved in a Central Florida human trafficking ring.
Bondi said victims often fear reporting abuse for fear of repercussion from captors.
She said she doesn't want immigration status to be another deterrent.
"The majority of victims in Florida are from our country, but if you are not from our country, if you are an undocumented immigrant, you are just as much a victim and we will protect you and do everything we can to take care of you,” Bondi said.
In recent years, Florida has accounted for a high number of the calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. In 2013, Florida had the third highest number of calls in the nation.
The summit continues through Friday, Oct. 29 in the USF Marshall Student Center.
Daylina Miller is a reporter with WUSF in Tampa. WUSF is a partner with Health News Florida, which receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.