January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and we must all do our part to raise awareness about this horrific crime and find ways we can combat it. Human trafficking is modern-day slavery that exploits children, women and men. Human traffickers subject their victims to forced labor or sexual exploitation through the use of force, fraud or coercion. According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, there are 27 million people enslaved worldwide. In 2011, Florida ranked third among all states in the number of calls received by the Center’s human trafficking hotline.
Human trafficking occurs throughout the United States, and in order to eradicate it, we must implement a multi-faceted strategy. Here in Florida we have developed a three-pronged approach that seeks to: enhance law enforcement’s ability to pursue human trafficking cases, engage the business community in developing anti-human trafficking policies and procedures; and raise public awareness with a statewide campaign intended to educate parents and children about the use of the Internet to recruit victims.
Law enforcement officers are on the front lines of identifying and responding to human trafficking situations, therefore, it is essential that we provide them with the support they need. In 2012, my office worked with the Florida legislature to establish tough new laws to fight human trafficking. The legislation combined Florida’s three human trafficking statutes into one. The legislation also strengthened Florida’s human trafficking penalties to be on par with federal penalties, and it gave law enforcement the ability to request a judge’s permission to intercept oral and electronic communications related to human trafficking investigations.
In another effort to equip law enforcement with the knowledge and authority necessary to tackle human trafficking, my office worked with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to provide a voluntary human trafficking training course that is available to law enforcement officers throughout Florida. The two-hour online training, “Introduction to Human Trafficking,” helps officers identify potential human trafficking situations. Officers who take this course receive credit toward their continued employment training.
We are also working with Florida’s business community to involve them in the effort to stop human trafficking. Businesses are uniquely positioned to help end this deplorable crime in that they can serve as the eyes and ears to recognize and report signs of human trafficking. For example, the Florida Trucking Association has partnered with us in this initiative. Its members travel Florida’s roadways daily and may come into contact with human trafficking victims, especially at overnight stops along trucking routes. My office created an online toolkit that contains facts about human trafficking and recommended training and policies to help businesses create their own plans as well as case studies. The online toolkit and additional information about the initiative is available at MyFloridaLegal.com.
Finally, we recognize that awareness is a key component to stopping human trafficking, which is why we launched a statewide campaign called “From Instant Message to Instant Nightmare.” The campaign is geared toward informing parents and children about safe Internet use to prevent human traffickers from using the Internet to recruit victims. Messages on billboards, bus shelters, and mall displays throughout Florida direct people to MyFloridaLegal.com, where parents can find a tip sheet and provide a pledge for their children to sign regarding Internet safety. One conversation with a child could prevent a lifetime of sexual exploitation.
We will continue our relentless efforts in Florida to stop human trafficking, and with a nationwide effort, we can help end human trafficking in the U.S.