TALLAHASSEE, FL ---- June 13, 2012
Florida Governor Rick Scott signed house bill 99 or the Florida Safe Harbor Act and house bill 7049 this week. Both are aimed at protecting victims in human trafficking cases.
The Florida Safe Harbor Act addresses the following:
-Increases maximum fine for someone who solicits a prostitute from $500 to $5,000
-Defines a dependent child to include children sexually exploited that have no parent or relative to provide care
-Sex abuse of a child includes prostitution and participating in sex trafficking
-Rather than arresting children in child sex stings, it authorizes The Department of Children and Families (DCF) to place them into safe housing
HB 7049 covers the following:
-Expands jurisdiction of prosecutors to include human trafficking cases
-Adds sex traffickers to a list of sex offenders and sexual predators
-Increases penalties for first degree felonies
-Allows law enforcement officials to seize property used or intended to be used in trafficking of victims.
"It's consumers who drive the demand for prostitution," said The Refuge House executive director Meg Baldwin.
According to the Human Trafficking Awareness Coalition, Florida ranks third in the U.S when it comes to human trafficking.
"The average age of entry into prostitution is somewhere between 12 and 14 years of age."
The Florida Safe Harbor Act allows children that are found in sex trafficking to not be arrested but instead be treated like victims and place them into safe housing.
"Many states have already passed legislation like this providing safe harbor as well as social services support."
While this helps the young generation forced into prostitution, Baldwin says lawmakers shouldn't forget about the older women who don't qualify for these services.
"The adult women who are prostituting are no less exploited and typically come from the environments of abuse and exploitation that the children do that are the focal point."