By Romelo Wilson
Approaching Sunday, Dec. 1, Florida schools must submit implementation plans regarding human trafficking prevention courses in order to combat the increasing rate of cases reported.
In September, Florida politicians introduced a bill titled “Human Trafficking and Exploitation Prevention Training Act” which will provide a funding of $75 million over the course of five years to apply courses in K-12 on various information and tools on how to avoid the illegal act.
The Florida State Board of Education requires grades K-12 to begin teaching these prevention courses. This will make Florida the first state in the country to require education in schools that address the urgency of child trafficking prevention, as mentioned by US News.
Florida is among the top three states with the highest rates of human trafficking.
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, there were 767 cases reported just this last year in the state, falling behind California and Texas where their reported cases reached at least 1,000.
Between the years of 2017 and 2018, the amount of human trafficking cases reported increased approximately 24.14% per capita which excludes the number of times the hotline was contacted regarding trafficking and not necessarily reporting a case.
Within Florida, the Tampa Bay area is the second highest region in the state, which includes Hillsborough, Pinellas, Hernando, and Pasco counties. As stated by the Florida Department of Health, around 20 million people are victims of human trafficking, with half of the victims in Florida being under the age of 18.
Under Title XLVI Chapter 787, human trafficking means “transporting, soliciting, recruiting, harboring, providing, enticing, maintaining, or obtaining another person for the purpose of exploitation of that person.”
“Even though it’s supposed to take about five months to expunge a record, it usually takes longer, especially when the victim doesn’t have the concrete evidence that the judge is looking for,” said Tajuana Wilson, a court reporter for the New York City Criminal Court.
According to Title XLVII, a victim of human trafficking can petition to expunge their criminal history regarding a crime they may have committed while being under the control of a sex trafficker.
The law states, “A person who is a victim of human trafficking may petition for the expunction of a criminal history record resulting from the arrest or filing of charges for an offense committed or reported to have been committed while the person was a victim of human trafficking”.
The state is trying to combat the issue from an early start rather so that they would not have to handle the issue after the victim is too far into the situation.
In 2012, the state attempted to ease the legal burden of being charged with crimes related to human trafficking. According to the Florida Department of Children and Families, minors are able to be deemed as “dependent instead of delinquent” as it gives law enforcement the option to either arrest or find a safe home for the victim to find residency at.
The politicians that are taking direct action are Rep. Vern Buchanan of Florida’s sixthteenth congressional district and Rep. Alcee Hasting of Florida’s twentieth district. U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Florida’s fourteenth congressional district which includes the Tampa Bay area announced a grant in 2015 that would assist sex-trafficking victims. However, she is not known yet for any involvement with the bill that would implement trafficking prevention courses within schools.
“I think the point of educating the public especially in an area where it’s really high is an important thing to do,” said Samuel Zurinsky, a native of Pinellas County, “I find it disturbing that the Tampa Bay representative isn’t taking more of a preventative measure considering that the area is the one of the highest in the state.”
The location of the state seems to be one of the reasons that some people think that the rate of trafficking is high.
“In Florida it’s easy to send victims to South America, and other countries nearby because it’s on the water, which makes it much easier to quickly maintain the exploitation process,” said Jeremy Tiburcio, 25.
Not only will the new bill provide students with signs to prevent getting caught within the crime, it will also provide teachers with new ways to be aware and cautious of it. This would allow the number of minors charged with different kinds of prostitution in Florida to also decrease per year.
The main action that victims who wish to expunge their records must take is to provide the courts with evidence that shows that they are no longer under their trafficker’s control and if they are, they must show attempts of escape by seeking human trafficking services.
Fortunately, compared to other expungement qualifications for Florida, their past record of the victim doesn’t necessarily deny them the ability to petition against it. If the victim has a criminal history, especially one where they were successful in expunging it, they’re able to do so again regarding charges related to human trafficking.
If the bill is passed, schools would be provided more financial assistance to increase the success of the trafficking prevention courses.
Romelo Wilson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org