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Human trafficking Part 3

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By Patricia A. Woodbury

This will be the last article in this series. We have learned what Human Trafficking is and who the victims are. We learned that there are approximately 20.9 million people enslaved throughout the world with 2.5 million located in the United States. We know that Florida is third in the nation, after New York and California as a magnate of human trafficking. According to the Marion County Task Force, in 2016, Ocala/Marion County ranked third in the number cases called into the hotline out of eleven counties in the state. So the question is what has society done to deal with this illegal activity?

In 2000 federal legislation was passed entitled the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). This is a complex law that sets out severe penalties for those convicted of human trafficking and provides rehabilitation for victims. This human trafficking statute is potent because it draws the most penalties and under this law allows for benefits and resources for victims, many of whom were told to expect punishment, not rehabilitative care. However these cases take a lot of extra work to investigate and prosecute.

With the impetus of this law every agency in the government, from the FBI, to Defense, to Labor and more, were also asked to participate in this effort. The Department of Health and Human Services funded the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) Hotline in 2008. According to the Services and Resources Committee Report to the Council on Human Trafficking (2016) Florida residents placed 6,819 calls to the hotline. This represents the third highest call volume in the United States. Of these calls, 1,510 (22%) were classified by the NHTRC to have moderate or high potential of being a legitimate report of human trafficking.

In 2013 the TVPA was reauthorized as part of the Violence AgainstWomen Reauthorization Act. This law included invaluable specialist services for survivors of human trafficking, grants prosecutors new tools to go after traffickers for exploiting others and enhances partnerships with focus countries to protect children and prevent child trafficking.

In the spring of 2015 the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) began implementing a newly created screening tool, Florida’s Human Trafficking Screening Tool, targeting the identification of both male and female victims of sex and labor trafficking. This instrument is comprised of primarily “forced response” questions as opposed to open-ended questions and can be utilized by non-clinical staff for the purpose of determining whether a youth is a victim of sex and/or labor trafficking.

When the U.S. Department of Justice began funding for local task forces, four such task forces were established in Florida: Clearwater/Tampa Bay, Collier County, Homestead, and Lee County. Since then the Marion County Sheriff’s Office established a Human Trafficking Task Force. There is also a statewide task force sponsored by the Department of Children and Families and another sponsored by the Catholic Diocese of Orlando.

Florida’s Current Continuum of Care Florida offers a variety of services to victims of sex trafficking. From early prevention in the community to intensive residential rehabilitation, public and private agencies are working to identify and assist those at-risk, suspected or confirmed to be victims. For example, the Salvation Army produced a training manual with suggestions for those providing services to victims of human trafficking.

Once victims are identified, they have many needs resulting from suffering traumatic experiences. Sex trafficking victims may need substance abuse treatment, mental health counseling, trauma therapy, legal assistance and support for their basic needs in addition to specialized services specific to the victimization by their traffickers, or experiences they subjected themselves to in order to survive on the streets. Voluntary short-term housing is available statewide. Unfortunately long-term housing is a more problematic resource.

While Florida faces many challenges in the area of human trafficking, it is making better progress then some states. Florida has continually updated its laws in the effort to combat trafficking and these laws have resulted in numerous convictions of those who engage in human trafficking. However, there is still more to be done. Florida needs to create a statewide central coordinated care approach for funding and care management. There is an increased need for funding the treatment and placement of juvenile sex trafficking victims. There is a need for funding for the ongoing evaluation of programs and tools in Florida to transform promising programmatic practices into evidence-based response. Public schools statewide should adopt curriculum to train staff and students on the issue of sex trafficking; to name just a few.

These services are available to these victims in our community like, housing, health, food, income, employment, legal and interpretation services, but first the victim must be found. That is the citizen’s responsibility to become aware of this problem and if they think someone is a victim of trafficking to call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) Hot Line at 1-888-373-7888 toll free. They are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to take these calls.

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) Ocala branch want to assist in helping the public to be more aware of the public health problem and are inviting all to come and hear more from some experts on Human Trafficking and get their questions answered. So mark your calendar for the public forum on Human Trafficking Tuesday, Jan. 23, at 6 p.m. at the Ocala Police Department Community Room 402 S. Pine Ave., sponsored by the American Association of University Women (AAUW). Please note the change in venue. For more information about this upcoming forum contact 352-236-3926.

Patricia Woodbury is a member of the American Association of University Women.