May 4, 2022

Human Trafficking in Florida: Complete Prevention Guide

Human trafficking can happen in situations and environments that are typically thought of as normal operations. Many victims are still invisible to us. At an estimated $150 billion, human trafficking continues to grow and is the third most common global criminal activity.

Florida is taking more robust measures to contain this growing issue and eliminate its influence in the state.

The more involved the government is with the community to enhance prevention, protect victims, and punish perpetrators, the greater the efforts become to eradicate what anyone outside such practice deems as exceedingly vile and unacceptable within a civilized world.

 As part of Florida’s outstanding anti-trafficking progress, the Florida Department of Education recently announced that Florida became the first state in the nation to require instruction on child trafficking prevention for all K-12 students by implementing a curriculum that teaches them about topics ranging from prevention to online safety.

The 2017 F.I.G.H.T. project report from FSU Center for the Advancement of Human Rights in collaboration with 1HTC surveyed service providers in five counties of Florida’s southeastern-most counties of Broward, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, and Palm Beach. The report revealed that housing, access to education, and job opportunities for victims of trafficking remain to be significant challenges in Florida.

Human Trafficking in Florida 

The current trends surrounding human trafficking in Florida have unique reasons behind the different types of criminal activity involved.

Labor trafficking:

Labor trafficking is also quite common in the state of Florida.

This area of concern is usually related to Florida’s economy.

These practices take place in the agriculture, tourism, and hospitality industries.

According to the Florida Strategic Plan on Human Trafficking, labor trafficking is the most common type of trafficking in Florida.

Florida happens to have a vast agricultural economy, which has created an ideal situation for human traffickers to force their victims into exploitative situations. This has been shown to be especially true in the tomato industry. 

The additional fact that Florida has a large immigrant population also contributed to the state’s problem becoming worse than many other states as the immigrant population may be vulnerable to exploitation practices related to labor or services.

Sex trafficking: 

Sex trafficking also remains to be another common issue in the fight against human trafficking.

Over time, forcing people into prostitution has evolved to the point where locations are not always stationary, and women are being driven to places to meet clients, making it difficult to pinpoint sex trafficking crimes.

People typically think of sex trafficking when they hear the term “human trafficking,” which continues to be an elaborate issue with many criminals involved in the wrongdoing.

Many criminals may be making a profit by engaging persons, including children, in the sex industry.

Furthermore, the advancement of internet has made these practices easier to facilitate.

Domestic minor sex trafficking:

The other most common type of trafficking is sex trafficking of minors in Florida.

Between 30,000-40,000 teens and young adults are identified as runaways, which makes them more susceptible to being trafficked for prostitution and in the adult entertainment industry.

Thus, one of the more problematic areas of trafficking is domestic sex trafficking of minors.

Many show signs of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse.

As the issue has become common in the state, efforts continue to grow to help the victimized children.

Statistics

When discussing the human trafficking issue in the state of Florida, it ranks alarmingly high on the scale compared to other states.

Florida has a worse human trafficking problem than forty-seven other states.

Only California and Texas are ranked higher than Florida.

The statistics below are based on numbers that have been generated from contacting victims, so there is a possible margin of error because many victims never come forward due to fear or other concerns.

These statistics are from 2007 onward:

• Since 2007, 17,516 contacts have been made by survivors or citizens who were privy to trafficking crimes

• 5,384 total cases have been generated

• Top industries for labor trafficking are:

  1. Agriculture
  2. Domestic work
  3. Construction 
  4. Illicit activities
  5. Traveling sales crews

• Top industries for sex trafficking are:

  1. Illicit massage/spa business
  2. Pornography
  3. Hotels and motels
  4. Residence-based commercial sex

In 2020, 2,539 contacts were made to the National Hotline.

738 cases were reported in 2020. From this, 517 were sex trafficking cases, 108 were related to labor trafficking cases, and 41 cases were combined sex and labor trafficking.

Cities

While there is a statewide issue present, consider the impact of human trafficking in the following cities in Florida.

Miami

Being the second most populous city in Florida, with an influx of tourism, Miami is at a greater risk for human trafficking than other cities.

Miami recognizes the human trafficking problem that is affecting its communities.

Miami created a campaign ahead of Super Bowl LIV in early 2020. It aimed to raise a higher level of awareness while also giving specific instructions to help to combat the problem ahead of the big game, which took place in Miami on February 2, 2020. 

Jacksonville

Having the largest population in Florida, Jacksonville has become a hub for trafficking in the state.

When city officials began publicly bringing the issue to light, they took the necessary steps to continuously raise awareness of the problem to help bring people together to deal with it accurately.

An ordinance passed in 2016 requires adult entertainment facilities and massage establishments to post content in the form of public signs where patrons can see them, further informing citizens who may not be completely aware that there is even an issue in their city.

Tampa

After Miami hosted the Super Bowl in 2020, Tampa hosted the 2021 Super Bowl.

The Sheriff’s Office in Tampa took time to confirm that the Super Bowl has the propensity to cause more human trafficking crimes than any other large event in the country.

Orlando

Orlando has also begun more vigorous efforts to combat human trafficking by generating sting operations, utilizing tips, and making arrests of people involved in the human trade.

Along with other cities in the state, this city has made extraordinary efforts to band together statewide so everyone can be made aware of the issue and do their part in helping.

Many campaigns urge people to “see something, say something.”

Unfortunately, the problem is everywhere, including Orlando. This acknowledgment brings awareness to the issue, which will hopefully create new efforts to get the issue under control.

Florida’s Outstanding Anti-Trafficking Efforts

Policymakers and municipalities in Florida have begun great efforts to eradicate the human trafficking problem that exists within the state.

Even though the issue is complex, Florida’s concerted efforts to properly handle the problem have been with great success so far.

Numerous house bills have been passed to help to address the issue of human trafficking at its source.

Attorney General’s Office

The Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution has created a zero-tolerance policy for all human trafficking crimes.

Any cases that are presented to their office by law enforcement are opened and handled accordingly.

Training, education, and presentation on the specifics of adequately handling these cases have been created for law enforcement officials.

Several campaigns have also begun to raise awareness so citizens can feel a desire to be of service to those who are in need of help.

In 2013, the Attorney General’s office launched the statewide campaign ‘From Instant Message to Instant Nightmare,’ aimed at kids and parents, to help to raise awareness on online child safety.

The Office of the Attorney General has also accumulated a substantial number of strategic partners to help with the human trafficking problem in Florida.

Department of Children and Families

As a result of the Florida Safe Harbor Act (House Bill 99 – 2012), a significant amount of funding was secured to help the trafficking victims.

Various types of security and counseling are now being provided to survivors so that they may get the help that they deserve.

They help to provide residential, health, and dental care. Recreational services, food, clothing, and education (including life skills education) are all being provided to those in need.

Transportation for youths is also a readily available service to the victims whenever they need to get to school and work.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Juvenile Justice

In 2013, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement joined the Attorney General and created a 2-hour training course devoted explicitly to human trafficking for all law enforcement officials.

Utilizing such tools helped to further the cause within law enforcement entities.

The course is continuously updated as laws change over time to address the issue better.

Since 2016, over 5,000 law officials in Florida have taken the class, and the number will continue to increase in the future.

The Department of Juvenile Justice takes the time to identify the victims when trafficking victims end up in the system and move them out when they end up there due to the criminal activity of those who trafficked them in the first place.

Their anti-trafficking initiatives date back to 2012 and have since strengthened, including the initiative to utilize the system to pinpoint trafficking survivors who end up in their custody.

Anti-Trafficking Legislation

Florida Statute §787.06:

The statute defines human trafficking as “transporting, soliciting, recruiting, harboring, providing, enticing, maintaining, or obtaining another person for the purpose of exploitation of that person.”

The statute also outlines Florida's goals of assisting victims and prosecuting offenders.

Florida Statute §787.05:

The statute categorizes labor trafficking as a second-degree felony.

Florida Statute §796.045:

The statute categorizes sex trafficking of adults as a second-degree felony.

Florida Statute §796.035:

The statute categorizes sex trafficking of minors as a first-degree felony.

Whereas an adult trafficking victim bears the burden of proving force, coercion, or fraud, children are exempt considering their vulnerability to exploitation.

Florida Safe Harbor Law (2012) §409.1678, F.S.:

It gives Florida law enforcement officers the option to place minors who were found to be engaged in commercial sex (domestic minor sex trafficking victims) in a dependency track rather than a delinquency track.

Stories, Cases, & Successful Operations

A South Florida Man Allegedly Linked to a Sex Trafficking Ring Exploited Girls, Mostly from Foster Homes 

In 2017, the FBI began its investigation against William Foster. Allegedly, Foster’s network operates in South Florida and outside of the state, specifically in Nevada, New York, and the Detroit area.

Authorities also discovered that Foster was listed as the president of Foster's Care's not-for-profit organization.

According to the Foster’s Care website, the organization offers “a comprehensive restoration program for victims of human sex trafficking.” The question "Are you a victim of the sex trade?" as well as "Contact us now" were also featured in the site’s "Contact Us" section.

Hundreds Charged in Largest Internet Child Pornography Bust ‘Welcome To Video’

In October 2019, the Department of Justice’s Office of Public Affairs released a report outlining the takedown of the largest child pornography site on the dark web.

A successful operation led by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations served to help to eradicate trafficking in cyberspace.

Child pornography is a product of human trafficking and will always be regarded as a horrific crime.

The takedown of such a large entity creates hope that other large operations functioning on the Internet may also be taken down.

Additionally, 337 site users were arrested and charged from various states across the US, including Florida.

Tampa Bay’s Sting Operation

Tampa made a giant stride forward in fighting against human trafficking.

A sting operation in 2019 led to the arrest of 104 criminals. An effort to debrief any women who were arrested to determine if they were being trafficked was also made so that all people who were committing the trafficking may be adequately charged.

Organizations, Coalitions, Taskforces, and Universities

Citrus Health Network: Chance Program

The Citrus Health Network has created a unique program, primarily focused on human trafficking victims under the age of 18 to create an environment where they can be provided with the special care that they deserve.

Children in the program receive special individual care.

The focus behind the program is to give the kids trauma-focused care, motivational learning, and cognitive care.

The program also gives potential foster parents the further education that they may need before becoming parents of children in the program.

FSU Center for the Advancement of Human Rights

An important part of Florida State University, the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights, has been funded by an anonymous donor at its development, which the State of Florida matched in recognition of its importance to the school.

It establishes human rights field placements for FSU students.

The center also engages in direct human rights advocacy, which is important for the students because it gives them firsthand experience of being of service.

G.R.A.C.E. Court

In 2016, the Florida Court System created a new program called G.R.A.C.E., which stands for Growth Renewed through Acceptance, Change, & Empowerment.

Devoted to helping child victims of sex and labor trafficking, this unique court program is part of the Juvenile Dependency Division of the Miami-Dade Court System.

The program provides comprehensive services to those who have been victimized and their families.

The John J. Brunetti Human Trafficking Academy at St. Thomas Law

As part of St. Thomas University’s College of Law, the John J. Brunetti Human Trafficking Academy is a pioneer anti-trafficking institution in South Florida.

It offers specialized educational programs, instructing on law and policy to fight human trafficking around the globe. 

The Academy trains future leaders in the combat against human trafficking. In addition, they conduct research on the subject and empower survivor leadership.

Palm Beach County’s Enhanced Collaborative Human Trafficking Task Force

In early 2016, a special task force was created in Palm Beach County to specifically target the human trafficking problem. Vowing to be primarily victim-focused, the task force also utilizes a trauma-informed approach.

PBC’s task force received the honor of being Task Force of the Year in 2017, which was awarded by the American Society for Industrial Security. 

Several collaborative partners have also teamed up with PBC’s task force to work together toward enhancing solutions.

Evaluation of Miami Community Action Response to Exploitation and Sex Trafficking (Miami CARES) Project

The Miami Cares Project is part of the University of South Florida’s effort to help children who have been victims of trafficking.

Maintaining a number of important goals allows the individuals working for the project to increase awareness and help others to better understand the subject, especially concerning kids who have been victimized.

Miami-Dade County Human Trafficking Coalition

The coalition brings community agencies together to enhance coordination to serve victims and survivors through its network.

Community agencies share promising practices for best serving victims who have suffered human trafficking, meeting and covering all their needs.

This coalition is actively promoting and hosting awareness-raising events for the public to increase prevention efforts in the community.

Office of Miami-Dade State Attorney Human Trafficking Taskforce and Unit

Since the inception of this unit in 2012 to 2017, a total of 436 cases have been filed. To date, these numbers will have increased even more. This unit has also assisted 582 victims by 2017.

Much like many of the other mentioned task forces, the Miami-Dade Human Trafficking Taskforce also takes a victim-centered approach to provide proper assistance. Their taskforce also uses specialized prosecutors, investigators, and victim specialists.

Working towards a common goal allows the specialized members of the task force to create a unit whose devotion to the cause enables them to further the progress of their successes.

South Florida Human Trafficking Taskforce

With a victim-centered approach, the South Florida Human Trafficking Taskforce uses its efforts to combat the problem while providing care to survivors.

Mandated by law, the approach gives equal importance to victim care and apprehension of traffickers.

While investigating potential cases, the Taskforce offers various services and care to victims of human trafficking to help them holistically.

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Dr. Beatriz Susana Uitts


Dr. Beatriz Susana Uitts is a human rights specialist, Internet child safety advocate, and founder of Human Trafficking Front, a research and advocacy organization for the prevention of human trafficking. Dr. Uitts holds a J.S.D. and LL.M. in Intercultural Human Rights from St. Thomas University College of Law in Miami Gardens, FL, and is the author of the book Sex Trafficking of Children Online: Modern Slavery in Cyberspace regarding the growing problem of online child sexual exploitation. In this book, she proposes solutions to prevent its spread and promote a safer Internet for children and adolescents worldwide.

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