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Governor, Attorney General Commemorate National Crime Victim Rights Week

For the 32nd year in a row, all levels of American government and law enforcement, set aside time to remember victims of crime. Florida officials observed National Crime Victim Rights Week at the Capitol Wednesday.

The commemorative week was created in 1981 to shed light on victims of all types of crimes- from robberies, to rape, to even human-trafficking. The state has taken a strong stance against the sex-trade in recent years after studies showed Florida to be a trafficking hub. Despite a 41-year low in crime, Attorney General Pam Bondi says 50% of violent crime in the Sunshine State still goes unreported.

“This means we need to continue our efforts to identify victims and encourage them to come forward, you cannot be scared to come forward, people are here to help you,” Bondi said.

Federal, state and local agencies have ramped up their efforts to support new legislation. Last year Florida lawmakers passed the Safe Harbor Act, which created a system of “harbor houses.” These aid in safely transitioning victims into normal life after sexual exploitation. This year there are a number of measures meant to crack down on the practice of human trafficking, and Governor Rick Scott wants to increase funding for victim services.

“Fighting crime also means helping victims to live quality lives and to get back the sense of safety and peace that was taken from them and I’m sure that’s very difficult. That’s why in my budge this year we put in $2.5 million to support rape crisis centers across the state, we also put in $1.5 million to provide trafficked youth a safe home,” Scott said.

Florida officials are attacking the sex-trade problem from all legislative sides. But, some advocates, like Isaac Isais, President of the International Justice Mission’s Florida State Chapter, said slavery isn’t only a part of the sex-trade, it’s also part of the state’s farming industry too.

Credit R.Benk / WFSU-FM
Students put their hand prints on an X to show support for the 27 million enslaved around the world.

“Slavery is essentially when you’re forced into a situation you can’t get out of. So, that’s sex-trafficking, that’s labor-trafficking, but that’s also having to do tomato farmers in Florida for example, or harvesters. So, they’re immigrants who come in and they get paid 25 cents a day to support a family of five,” Isais iterated.

The evening before the Capitol event in support of crime victims, students with the International Justice Mission “stood for freedom” in a 27-hour marathon to represent the 27-million people in slavery around the world. That includes the sex trade and farm workers in Florida. The Immokolee Farm Workers, a farm-worker advocacy group, routinely holds protests at the Capitol building, but that hasn’t prompted much meaningful legislation. Publicity Coordinator with the Justice Mission, Carrie Hardaway would like to see the legislature take the issue up.

“I would love to see farm workers having more rights, I know the Immokolee farmers is a big thing, I know there was a protest at Publix last week about that and so I would love for people to be more aware about it. I don’t think it’s a big enough focus in the legislature,” Hardaway said.

Now, two of three measures dealing with human-trafficking have been placed on both the House and Senate calendars for a floor vote and the other is tied up in committee. The farm workers will likely have to wait until next session to see if their issues translate into laws.