During National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention month, lawmakers, leaders and special-interest groups have come together to stand behind proposed state legislation that would educate Floridians about human trafficking and create a statewide hotline for reporting.
Florida has one of the highest per-capita concentrations of reported trafficking in the country — greater than either Texas or New York, according to data from the Polaris Project and Census.gov. During a Monday morning press conference at the Florida Capitol, Representatives Barrington Russell (D-Lauderdale Lakes) and Robert Asencio (D-Miami) and Senator Perry Thurston (D-Fort Lauderdale) introduced their legislation and said it aims to combat the rising rates of human trafficking crime throughout the state.
The lawmakers were joined by several others, including supporters from special-interest groups who called on the Criminal Justice Subcommittee to hear the bill, and former state Sen. Maria Sachs, who who during her time in state government served on a gubernatorial Human Trafficking Task Force and helped pass bills that combated the issue. She is also founder of the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking.
“Human trafficking prevention requires awareness, so I am in support of these bills because they also ensure that the long-term fight against human trafficking will continue through public education,” Sachs said.
Former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida Pamela Marsh also gave remarks in support.
“Florida is ground zero in the fight against human trafficking. Our state ranks third for number of total calls of tips to the national hotline from all sources,” she said. “We must draw human trafficking out of the shadows, and expose it to the full light of day. Only then can we eradicate it.”
Civil rights attorney and advocate Ben Crump cited a Bureau of Justice Statistics report that showed 77 percent of victims in alleged human trafficking incidents reported in the U.S. were people of color. Research conducted by the Polaris Project, a leader in the global fight to eradicate human trafficking, revealed that those most at risk of being trafficked are people who are oppressed or part of marginalized groups such as undocumented migrants – largely people of color.
“Enslaving and exploiting human beings for profit did not end with the passage of the 13th amendment,” Crump said. “The business of using and abusing people – even children – to satisfy the sick needs and demands of those with means but no morals is endemic in our society, and people of color are still the most vulnerable victims of this kind of exploitation.”
Beyond education and reporting, Crump called on the Legislature to address the roles that poverty, lack of educational and economic opportunities, and growing up in high-risk neighborhoods also play in making marginalized Floridians vulnerable to human trafficking.
Others who spoke in support included representatives of the Female Development World Organization, and the National Council of Negro Women.