If you understand the cycle of abuse, these girls are enslaved long after theyre off the street, Veitia said.
To be classified as incidents of human trafficking, there has to be an economic component where something of value is exchanged, and there is restriction of movement, whether by physical or psychological means, Bernadin said. And there have to be people willing to pay for sex.
The No. 1 risk factor [for commercial sexual exploitation of children] is when children are in demand. And we have a large demand population in Miami, said Sandy Skelaney of Kristi House, a Miami center to help child victims of sex abuse.
The character of the crime makes it hard to get accurate numbers of victims, but Skelaney, who has worked with more than 200 victims of commercial sexual exploitation since 2008, said that the number of reported cases barely scratches the surface. A study from Florida State University found that Florida has the third highest number of reported sex trafficking cases, after California and Texas.
The number of recognized victims in South Florida is increasing, partly because there is more awareness, but also because there is more crime of this type taking place, according to Tyson Elliot, the statewide human trafficking coordinator for the Department of Children & Families.
There are more street gangs and organized crime getting into human trafficking because theres more money to be made than selling drugs, he said. If a bad guy spends $1,000 on drugs and then goes and sells it for $2,000, his product is gone, and he spends his profit buying more product. With human trafficking its different. If someone pays him for a girl, he can go and sell her again that night.
In a high-profile case made public this week, police arrested four alleged pimps who were accused of soliciting and selling girls who were in foster care. The victims were all minors who were living in a group home. The sex-trafficking ring charged about $100 for each encounter, of which the girls were paid between $30 and $40, police said.
Florida passed the Safe Harbor Act in April to give law enforcement the option of delivering children who are forced into prostitution to a safe house instead of arresting them. The law also increases civil penalties for people who orchestrate the commercial sexual exploitation of children.
Yet even with more attention on this issue, much of the support to help human trafficking victims still functions in an ad hoc way, with different organizations focusing on different kinds of victims.
Veitia wants the LoF center to be a resource to pick up where other services have left off, teaching life skills to victims and educating the community about this issue. Instruction will follow the model established by the Fields of Hope program in North Carolina that reaches out to victims with concrete skills and opportunities to turn a profit in something that isnt sex, Veitia said.
Anna Beard suffered two years of abuse before she was able to move in with a friend and escape. Her abuser died in 2009 without ever paying for his crime. When Beard went to his familys house to get some of her stuff, she found out that the Polaroid pictures she thought were just for him were part of a profitable pornography business.
Now, she is looking forward to working with other victims and educating the general public about an issue that too often flies under the radar.
You have to understand that there are crazy people out there that want to hurt you, but you dont have to fall for that; you do have a choice, Beard said as a message to other victims of human trafficking. I want to show them that you can go from something where you feel so empty and worthless to something where youre completely restored.