Legislation signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis last week aims to toughen human trafficking laws in Florida.
Human trafficking is defined as the illegal practice of selling people for sex, labor or often both. Attorney General Ashley Moody says in Florida, the battle starts at the grassroots level in each of the state’s 20 judicial circuits.
“There is an active and engaged human trafficking task force made up of law enforcement and service providers that will help the victims in a unique way, once we save them from their situation,” said Moody. “Additionally, we have created a unit within [the AG’s] office, to ensure that there is a statewide prosecutor embedded into every one of those task forces.”
The signing of HB-851 by Gov. DeSantis comes on the heels of 85 people arrested in “Operation Trade Secrets” — a months-long human trafficking sting in the Tampa area.
“Operation Trade Secrets is a multi-pronged enforcement approach,” said Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister. “Focusing on hotels and motels; sex trade activities, spa and massage establishments, strip clubs and adult bookstores, and Internet activities.”
The 85 suspects nabbed in the covert operation face myriad charges.
“Ranging from human trafficking; sex trade-related charges, possession of a controlled substance, carrying a concealed firearm, practicing massage without a license, lewd and lascivious behavior, possession of counterfeit currency, [and] possession of child pornography.”
The new law includes the creation of a database of people convicted of soliciting prostitution, and placing new requirements on the operation of massage parlors, strip clubs and hotels. “I hope those of you here today if you do not know about the particular human trafficking task force – and yes, that can include labor trafficking,” Moody said. “But as we know, sadly, it can also include children that are trafficked as sex slaves.”
Speaking at the 7th annual Rural Counties Summit in Havana, Florida, Attorney General Ashley Moody said human trafficking affects people from all walks of life.
“When we talk about slavery and people profiting off other people’s pain that we should not be dealing with that in this modern age,” said Moody. “Yet, it goes on in our back yards and I think its protection mechanism that people don’t want to admit that.”
The new law is especially crucial this year, says Moody, because Miami will host Super Bowl 54 on February 2, which will draw fans from across the country. Many of the successes in thwarting crimes may never come to light, but Moody considers that “progress.”
“That is success; that is when we should be announcing victories,” said Moody. “But sometimes we will never know because the work you do when you are seeking to protect children – if we are doing our jobs, they are shielded from danger and violence and protected. And sometimes you will never know the lives that you touch, or a live that you saved.”
While technology is essential in the battle against human trafficking, Moody warns that the bad guys can turn that into a double-edged sword.
“Be mindful; we are in the summer months; video games and apps are being used a lot more frequently than they were just a month ago,” said the Attorney General. They will continue to be used throughout the summer, and this is ways that we are seeing [how] people are preying on our children in Florida.”
One of the tools in use by Moody’s office and law enforcement is the “Fortify Florida” app – which is designed to empower any Floridian to report potentially unsafe situations, which in turn could prevent a tragedy.
“And it allows people to anonymously report suspicious activity; it goes immediately to the relevant officials and law enforcement so that they can respond,” Moody said. “Within my office we have incorporated Fortify Florida training into the training of school resource officers.”
Florida is considered by many a hotbed for human trafficking. The state recorded the third-most calls last year to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
“If you are a victim, or believe you know someone who may be a victim of human trafficking, help is as simple as a phone call away,” said Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister. “You can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.”
More information about human trafficking and the various task forces around the state is available at the Attorney General’s website, www.myfloridalegal.com.