When Gov. Rick Scott slashed $461 million from the state budget, many communities’ special projects were left high and dry.
Locally, among the allocated monies taken back: $1 million for the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis; $300,000 for a Holocaust Memorial on Miami Beach and $250,000 to combat Medicaid fraud in Miami-Dade.
But one local effort spearheaded by Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle — to help young victims of human trafficking — will receive a $500,000 windfall, money that will change — and save — lives.
The money will create a shelter, or safe home, near downtown Miami for victims of human trafficking, women 18 and older who have been sexually exploited by their cruel handlers.
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Helping these victims has become a mission for both Gov. Scott and Ms. Fernández Rundle, who leads the state’s effort locally. They should be praised for bringing this crime out of the shadows and into the spotlight, helping the public better understand its sinister nature.
Human trafficking amounts to modern-day slavery that affects more than 27 million people worldwide, including an estimated 2 million children who are trafficked for child labor and sexual exploitation.
In the United States, the Polaris Project advocacy group estimates approximately 100,000 kids are currently trapped in the commercial sex trade of human trafficking.
Thousands of those victims often end up in South Florida.
Opening a Miami shelter was a critical, but missing, piece of the safety net because women and teens who escape their exploiters have no place to stay once they’re on their own. “There was not a shelter designated in Miami-Dade County for these victims,” Ms. Fernández Rundle told the Editorial Board, adding that, “There is a prosecutorial piece in place, a law-enforcement piece in place, a school-awareness campaign. But at 4 in the morning, you still have to have a place to take the victims.”
The new shelter will become that haven, where residents will receive medical services, trauma counseling and vocational training.
The state’s groundbreaking and progressive campaign to alter the way it deals with victims of human trafficking began in 2013. That’s when the Florida Department of Children & Families implemented the Safe Harbor Act, allowing the state to treat victims of human trafficking as victims instead of criminals, as had been the case for years.
The Department of Juvenile Justice has taken steps to help by creating the Victim Identification Pilot Project. The program, the first of its kind in the nation, identifies victims and coordinates their care and recovery with DCF, often sending minors to safer environments.
But adult victims had been left out of that equation, until now.
To further help the victims along, this year Gov. Scott signed into law two bills to protect the privacy of victims of human trafficking.
In allocating the shelter money, Gov. Scott said the Miami shelter would help victims “begin to heal from the trauma they’ve experienced.” As a father, the governor has rightfully shown a soft spot for this issue where Florida is a trailblazer.
Ms. Fernández Rundle can also be proud of her work and the attention her news conferences have attracted: “The public’s attention needs to be focused on the ugly and horrific crime that is human trafficking.” Well said.