Florida a magnet for traffickers



Although hard statistics are elusive, Florida is often seen as a trafficking hotspot. An estimated 385 teen girls are involved in the sex trade in Florida each month, according to a 2011 study commissioned by the Women’s Fund of Miami-Dade, and the state ranks third in terms of calls to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center tip line. In Miami-Dade, the state attorney investigated or prosecuted more than 100 child sex trafficking cases since last November, when the office launched a specialized unit.

The Florida Safe Harbor Act, signed in April 2012, signaled a shift in the state’s approach to sexually exploited children, providing they be treated as dependents rather than delinquents. Florida, which modeled its bill after a 2009 New York law, is one of 18 states to have full or partial Safe Harbor legislation.

Under the law, instead of being taken to jail, victims could be transferred to specialized short-term “safe houses” for 30 days, where they’d be stabilized and assessed for long-term placements. Increased fines for soliciting prostitutes would help fund safe houses. For the budget year that began July 1, the Legislature appropriated nearly $1.5 million to provide 50 shelter beds in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa and Orlando for sexually exploited children, DCF said.

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