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Bill Requiring Fla. Schools Teach About Human Trafficking Dangers Passes First Senate Panel

Florida Channel

A bill requiring Florida schools to teach about the dangers of human trafficking is starting to advance in the Senate.

Currently, middle and high schools are required to at least teach U.S. history, Florida’s history, and government. It also mandates the history of the Holocaust, African Americans, and health education. And, Sen. Greg Steube’s (R-Sarasota) bill would add an additional requirement: the dangers of human trafficking.

He says the idea came directly from a Riverview High School senior in his district.

“I’ve been doing this for seven years, and it’s not too often in this process where you actually have a high school student in your district come you to you about an issue,” said Steube. “And, when she came to me, she had already drafted the legislation. I looked through it, and I said, you know, this is something that’s really needed in our school system today.”

That high school student is Natalie Macaire King. She says she first came up with the idea while she was attending a leadership program called Girls State. She says she hadn’t intended to present the bill to Steube, until she started talking to kids at her school about human trafficking.

“And, something that really almost scared me is that no one had any idea…when I talked to teachers, they didn’t know that human trafficking was an issue, especially in Sarasota, Florida—a very affluent, nice neighborhood,” said King. “They didn’t understand that this is a real issue, and it’s happening in our backyard.”

So, what does King’s proposal include?

“In our already existing health classes in high schools, we would have a section that would talk about human trafficking, different dangers and signs that you can recognize it,” she added. There are pretty recognizable patterns that go on that traffickers use to get to different students. “A lot of it is online. So, we preach internet safety, but the students don’t realize why that is. They don’t realize the different tactics that traffickers are using.”

King adds the curriculum would also include what students can do to help, like calling the national human trafficking hotline. Florida ranks third in the nation in calls to the hotline.

“They give us all little cards that have hotline numbers on them, but what they don’t explain is who’s going to pick up the phone, what’s the process going to be when we do call, when we ask for help…what’s going to happen to us,” she asked.

And, King says it’s really needed, so students can recognize the signs and dangers.

“Many of the runaways are approached by traffickers,” she continued. “It’s no longer just the typical male, or it’s no longer just women being targeted. It’s young boys. And, it’s couples who are doing this! And, so, students just need to be aware of this issue so that they can keep themselves safe, and it’s not to scare them into doing anything. But, it’s really just to keep themselves safe.”

Barbara DeVane, representing the Florida chapter of the National Organization for Women, says as a former educator, this bill will help protect the state’s youth as well as build on ongoing anti-trafficking efforts.

“While improved prosecution of traffickers and better services for victims are vital, equally important is greater awareness and education,” she said. “And, no one needs that education more than our youth.  The average age of trafficking victims is in the 11 to 14-year range. Last year, DCF [Florida Department of Children and Families] reported a 54 percent increase in the number of human trafficking reports to the hotline over the previous year. This constituted almost 1,900 reports of human trafficking of children in Florida in 2015-2016.”

Steube’s bill also allows students to opt out of learning about human trafficking if they get a note from their parent.

While his bill recently passed its first Senate committee, the House measure has not yet had a hearing.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.