Tallahassee, Fl -- Tim Girard's 7th grade civics class at Raa middle school responded to a challenge from state lawmakers to come up with a bill to benefit Florida. The kids chose to tackle human trafficking.
"I'm incredibly proud of them, they are doing things I wish I could have done in 7th or 8th grade," said Girard.
Girard's students aren't alone with their concerns about human trafficking. The Department of Juvenile Justice and the Department of Children and Families are trying to raise awareness about the issue.
"Human traffickers view Florida as one of the most attractive destinations and transit points for their victims," said human trafficking volunteer advocate Deboarh Polston during a press conference at the capitol.
"The big thing about human trafficking is it's a much bigger issue then people realize. When you think about it, DCF just last year investigated 1200 cases of human trafficking," said DCF secretary David Wilkins.
DCF says prostitution is the most common form, with an estimated 100,000 kids nationwide entrapped in the commercial sex trade right now. It's the main reason Girard's students wanted to make a difference.
"They are very concerned about other 13 year olds, 12 year olds, 11 year olds, and kids their age who are being trafficked," said Girard.
State Representative Alan Williams is in the process of drafting the student's bill. It will go before a committee before the upcoming legislative session.
Department of Juvenile Justice Release: Child-serving Agencies Partner to Raise Awareness about Human Trafficking: DJJ Secretary Wansley Walters announces expansion of Victim Identification Pilot Project
Tallahassee – Today, Florida’s Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD), Department of Children and Families (DCF) and Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) held a joint press conference to raise awareness about human trafficking and educate the public about the state’s efforts to end the practice in Florida.
Human trafficking is a form of modern day slavery that affects more than 27 million people worldwide, including an estimated two million children who are trafficked for child labor and sexual exploitation. In the United States, the Polaris Project estimates approximately 100,000 kids are trapped in the commercial sex trade right now.
“Florida is a leading the way for the rest of the nation with its comprehensive, collaborative, cross-agency approach to protecting our state’s children from the emotional, physical and psychological harm human trafficking causes,” said DJJ Secretary Wansley Walters, chair of the Human Trafficking Workgroup of the Florida Children and Youth Cabinet.
For the second consecutive year, Gov. Rick Scott signed a proclamation designating January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month in Florida. This year, 13 local governments followed his lead by signing proclamations for their communities.
"The Department of Children and Families has investigated more than 1,000 cases of alleged human trafficking involving children in this state," said Secretary David Wilkins. "We are so proud to join in this effort to fight this terrible crime and rescue these young victims who are being sexually abused, exploited and traumatized. We can only hope that together, we can make a difference in their lives and stop other children from being victimized this way."
During the press conference, DJJ Secretary Walters announced that DJJ is expanding its Victim Identification Pilot Project to Orange County. This unparalleled pilot trains staff at DJJ’s Juvenile Assessment Centers (JACs) to use a research-based, trauma-informed assessment tool to identify victims as soon as they enter the facility. The pilot began in Broward County last August, extended to Miami-Dade County in October, and will launch in Orange County at the end of this month. Once victims are identified, DJJ staff reports them to the Florida Abuse Hotline and an alert is entered into DJJ’s data system to track the child and ensure they receive appropriate services.
“Florida is the first state in the nation to attempt to identify victims immediately upon arrest,” DJJ Secretary Walters added. “We are particularly proud of this project because it not only saves children from the cruel individuals subjecting them to trafficking, but it also enables us to connect victims with state resources they need to recover from the trauma they experienced and move forward.”
Walters added, “The data we collect will help us better understand the scope of the problem, how many of these survivors we serve, and how we can best meet their needs.”
The pilot project complements two laws passed during the 2012 Legislative Session that seek to assist human trafficking victims. With the start of 2013, sexually exploited children received new hope as the state’s Safe Harbor Act became effective. The Safe Harbor Act helps ensure the safety of child victims who have been trafficked for sex by allowing them to get help from child welfare professionals instead of being placed in juvenile delinquency. This enables DCF, DJJ, law enforcement and local partners across the state to treat and help the victims of this abuse recover from the traumatic experiences they have faced so they can be successfully shepherded into adulthood.
"I am very proud to have sponsored and advocated for the Florida Safe Harbor Act. This important legislation allows law enforcement to recognize vulnerable individuals as victims instead of criminals, and gives us the ability to offer them refuge and support," said Senator Anitere Flores. "I applaud Kristi House in Miami for their efforts in working with the Department of Children and Families to lead the way in identifying and treating victims of this horrendous crime."
A separate law, House Bill 7049, went into effect last July and gives prosecutors the ability to better fight this terrible crime by imposing tougher penalties. Together, the laws have made Florida a national leader in fighting human trafficking and rescuing victims.
Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world today, and matches arms smuggling as the second largest international criminal industry.
“The situation in Florida is particularly dire because predators view our state as one of the most attractive destinations and transit points for their victims,” said Deborah Polston, Volunteer Advocate for Human Trafficking. “Thankfully, our state’s leaders and the Florida Legislature have recognized the need to further protect Florida’s youth. I am proud to be a part of the team dedicated to combating human trafficking in the state of Florida.”
The Agency for Persons with Disabilities is also incorporating numerous human trafficking indicators into its Zero Tolerance training program to help the professionals serving people with developmental disabilities identify and appropriately respond to the victims they may encounter. This is part of APD's efforts to educate staff members and service providers throughout the state about human trafficking and its grave effect on U.S. citizens, foreign nationals, and the extremely vulnerable clients served by the agency.
"APD is committed to heightening awareness of all the potential threats that its clients face on a day-to-day basis," said APD Director Barbara Palmer. "We understand that the issues surrounding human trafficking evolve continually, so the agency will be vigilant in its efforts to ensure the safety and well-being of Floridians with developmental disabilities."
The Zero Tolerance curriculum guides APD's providers in identifying cases of abuse and neglect, including sexual exploitation. In addition to requiring this training for APD employees and service providers, the agency has partnered with the Department of Children and Families’ Adult Protective Services Program that tracks and investigates reports of abuse and neglect. APD staff members throughout the state review these reports in an effort to strengthen abuse prevention strategies. The integration of human trafficking indicators will add this crucial factor to the report review process.
If you are aware of any child or adult in an unsafe situation, please call the Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-962-2873
Department of Juvenile Justice Release: Officials recognize Human Trafficking Awareness Month
Tallahassee -- The Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD), Department of Children and Families (DCF) and Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) will distribute navy blue ribbons to all members of the Florida Legislature this week in observance of Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Navy blue has been designated as the national color for human trafficking awareness.
"With human trafficking as the fastest growing criminal enterprise and Florida as one of the most attractive destinations by predators, the need for actions is here and now,” said DJJ Secretary Wansley Walters, chair of the Human Trafficking Workgroup of the Florida Children and Youth Cabinet. “I will proudly wear the navy blue ribbon as a symbol of my commitment to protecting Florida youth from the predators who view our children as nothing more than opportunities for their own financial gain."
The ribbons are attached to cards describing human trafficking and how legislators can help. The cards are signed by APD Director Barbara Palmer, DCF Secretary David Wilkins and DJJ Secretary Wansley Walters and read: "Human trafficking is a form of modern day slavery; be it for commercialized sexual or labor exploitation. This crime does not have a static profile. It affects children, adults, U.S. citizens, residents, and foreign nationals alike. More specifically, it affects Florida’s most vulnerable population: children. From January to October 2012, 546 Florida children were reported as potential victims of human trafficking to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) Florida Abuse Hotline and more than 184 U.S. trafficked minors have received services through DCF. Florida has passed legislation that provides greater penalties for perpetrators of child sex trafficking and helps protect exploited children. The Department of Children & Families, Department of Juvenile Justice, and Agency for Persons with Disabilities are committed to continuing to work with the Legislature and the Attorney General to address this growing problem in our state."
Gov. Rick Scott has proclaimed January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month in Florida. Additionally, the following counties and cities signed their own proclamations:
· Broward County
· Lake County
· Miami-Dade County
· Marion County
· City of Bunnell
· City of Callaway
· City of Dunedin
· City of Lynn Haven
· City of Ocala
· City of Palatka
· City of Parker
· Panama City
· Panama City Beach
Click here to read the proclamation.
“The navy blue ribbon symbolizes my commitment to doing my part to ensure the people of Florida have every possible protection from the horrifying practice of human trafficking,” said state Rep. Matt Gaetz. “I commend Secretary Walters, Secretary Wilkins and Director Palmer on their efforts to abolish human trafficking and offer my support on this very important issue.”
Human trafficking is a form of modern day slavery and is a crime against humanity that violates the most basic human rights and deprives victims of their freedom. It occurs when a person is recruited, harbored, obtained, or exported through force, fraud, or coercion for the purposes of sexual exploitation, forced labor, involuntary servitude, debt bondage and other methods of slavery.
"In the past two years, we have investigated more than 1,000 allegations of human trafficking involving the sexual exploitation of children," said Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins. "The new laws passed last year that toughen penalties for criminals involved in this horrible crime and provide better services to victims have made Florida a national leader in the fight against human trafficking."
Human trafficking affects more than 27 million people worldwide, including an estimated two million children who are trafficked for child labor and sexual exploitation.
"Unfortunately, human trafficking has become a problem in our state. Many Floridians with disabilities are extremely vulnerable and may be exploited. Some people with developmental disabilities may be manipulated and coerced into being sexually abused. They may not fully understand that they are being used in situations of sexual abuse or prostitution. The state of Florida is committed to preventing all types of abuse and exploitation of vulnerable citizens," said APD Director Barbara Palmer.
Communities across the state are also hosting events to raise awareness about the dangers of human trafficking and the steps each Florida residents can take to protect themselves and their family.