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Bondi calls on legislature to crack down on human trafficking

Attorney General Pam Bondi says human trafficking is a problem in Florida. Bondi sponsored a resolution Wednesday having the Governor and Cabinet recognize January as Human Trafficking Awareness month. James Call reports, Bondi is also behind a proposal in the legislature to empower a state-wide prosecutor to rescue the victims of what she calls modern day slavery.

Human trafficking is the term law enforcement uses to describe the act of coercing a person into forced labor, including prostitution, domestic servitude, restaurant work and migrant agricultural work.

According to a report commissioned by the Florida Legislature it’s the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world, a $32 billion industry. And according to Attorney General Pam Bondi,  it thrives in the shadows. Few people acknowledge it exists and fewer still talk about it.

“It is something like I always compare to child molestation. People don’t people when I was a prosecutor like the yucky child molestation cases never made the news because it was so ugly and I feel like what this does is bring awareness to the issue.”

Bondi asked both the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the House Judiciary Committee to come up with legislation to crack down on human trafficking. A study by the Florida State University Center for the Advancement of Human Rights found that Florida is the third most popular American destination for human traffickers due to a large agricultural industry and also because of a tourism-based economy.  Labor is the most prevalent type of human trafficking in Florida but the report found that minor sex trafficking is a significant problem.

“A lot of these young women are runaways. A lot of them are migrant workers but a lot are runaways within our own country. Young runaways who are in foster care, who come to Florida who get taken into the sex trade and don’t know how to get out.”

Stuart Representative William Snyder is sponsoring a bill rewriting the state’s human trafficking law. He says currently there are three laws on the books that he says law enforcement basically ignore. Of the three laws, the legislature can document just three arrests and one conviction. 

“And they were different enough and confusing enough I think that was one of the issues, why law enforcement was not making arrests. We discovered law enforcement was not making arrests under state law; they were turning everything over to the federal government. So the thrust of our bill is to provide a framework one statue that empowers state and local law enforcement to make their own cases.”

 An estimated 15,000 to 18,000 people are bought and sold in the United States every year to work as prostitutes, domestic workers and child laborers. Numbers are difficult to quantify but in 2010 the state department of children and families received reports of 156 trafficking incidents in Florida. The United States considers Florida as a top three state in human trafficking. Sullivan’s bill, and a companion in the Senate, rewrite the law to clear up confusion about intent, empowers a statewide prosecutor to attack the problem and permits wiretapping of suspects.

“Local law didn’t have the manpower and resources to work these cases. Now it is a statewide prosecutor who will be able to do it. They will be able to do it in a statewide manner. Unless it is in a statue that a statewide prosecutor can investigate, they can’t touch it. Unless it is in statue that there can be a wiretap there can’t be a wiretap. What we’ve done is elevated everything. I personally felt that if you forced someone into a bondage situation to do stoop labor although it is not egregious as a brothel kind of deal it is still pretty egregious.”

 The bill also removes the requirement that a victim has to be transported to constitute a human trafficking case,  and increases the penalty for human smuggling from a misdemeanor to a third degree felony.  Both the House and Senate bills passed out of their first committees and have two more committee stops each before going to the Floor.