We are unified to stop human trafficking, especially during our Super Bowl | Opinion

PEDRO PORTAL pportal@elnuevoherald.com

The arrest of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, for allegedly soliciting prostitution earlier this year, has rekindled national attention to the broader issue of human trafficking.

While this high-profile case garnered considerable attention, human trafficking rarely occurs under such a grand spotlight. Mr. Kraft’s soliciting prostitution case has received the notoriety that most human trafficking prosecutions do not.

But the victims of these less-publicized cases, often young women and girls from our own communities, are no less deserving of our focus and assistance.

Florida passed its first human trafficking statute in 2004 with very few arrests resulting in prosecutions because it was woefully inadequate.

Simply put, the scope and enormity of the human trafficking problem needed equally robust criminal statutes to combat it.

By 2012, Florida reportedly ranked #2 in the nation for the number of human trafficking victims.

I and others successfully lobbied the 2013 Florida Legislature to substantially revamp our human trafficking statutes, for more clarity and to significantly increase the potential punishments.

During this time, I also created Florida’s first prosecution unit dedicated solely to human trafficking and its related crimes. The positive results are clear.

While in 2012, we had only three filed human trafficking-related cases; to date we have filed over 580 human trafficking related criminal cases. The increased awareness and education of the last eight years have taught us all about the human tragedy of this depraved business of human trafficking. The advancements we have made as a community are striking:

A dedicated prosecution unit with its own specially assigned lawyers, police officers and counselors

An accessible hotline

Development of the Human Trafficking Policy Institute, a “think tank” for programs and services for victims

Launched specialized shelters and drop-in centers for minors and young adults

Launched Project Phoenix Shelter for those over 18 years old

Established the Thrive Clinic, a one stop-shop for medical services for victims

<bullet> Recently opened the first Human Trafficking Center (HTC) dedicated solely to combating human trafficking with the goal of creating a single doorway to focus efforts and resources.

My human trafficking Assistant State Attorneys work tirelessly on investigations and prosecutions of human trafficking related cases, seeking justice for victims.

Working alongside them are specialized victim counselors ready to assist victims after they have been rescued from their traffickers. Accessible any time, day or night, counselors provide crucial support services as victims attempt to reclaim control of their lives.

Also housed within the center is our task force team of State Attorney investigators and police officers from various police agencies in our community. Our task force gives us the law enforcement reach needed to rapidly respond and investigate leads whenever and wherever they occur in collaboration with our partners at the United State Attorney’s Office, Homeland Security and the FBI. Collaboration regarding Human Trafficking is one of the ways to fight this crime. To that end, on May 16, 2019, I hosted our 8th Annual Human Trafficking Forum. Annually, we review what our community has accomplished and identify the challenges and strategies needed going forward to eliminate these ugly crimes from our community.

In 10 months, our community will host Super Bowl LIV, drawing thousands of visitors to South Florida and providing a world-wide stage for Miami-Dade’s unique qualities.

It also has the potential of bringing human traffickers into town. Having partnered with the NFL, the Miami Super Bowl Host Committee, law enforcement and community organizations, we feel we are ready for everything the upcoming Super Bowl may bring.

This is in striking contrast to 2010 when the Super Bowl was last in our community.Efforts will not only be focused on the pimps but also on the “johns”.

The Human Trafficking business exists because a demand exists. The stakes in this fight are enormous. Human trafficking is a multi-billion dollar per year industry. Frankly, it is impossible to know the exact number of victims, given the nature of the crime and the reluctance to report it.

The arrest of Robert Kraft is a single incident. We believe that trafficked minors will be brought to Miami for the Superbowl from cities all around the nation with the intent to monetize children in the sex trade.

Unless we commit to taking the time and effort to discover them, perpetrators will continue to create countless semi-invisible human trafficking victims. I hope our whole community will join us on our mission to end this scourge.

Katherine Fernandez Rundle is Miami-Dade’s state attorney.