Florida’s Governor Rick Scott has signed into law two human-trafficking bills that will allow victims to petition the court to have human trafficking-related arrests and convictions expunged from their records. One section would allow victims up to age 16 to submit an out-of-court statement rather than testify in open court.
Experts attending a three-day human trafficking summit in Clearwater hosted by the International Association of Human Trafficking Investigators (IAHTI) applauded the new laws, which they say will address the “masking charges” — drugs, truancy, shoplifting and, most often, prostitution — that victims accumulate at the hands of their exploiters and finally give them the confidence to reveal themselves to law enforcement.
“That’s the logic of this new law — we need to scratch below the surface to see if this offense was committed as a result of their being trafficked,” said Terry Coonan, executive director of Florida State University’s Center for the Advancement of Human Rights. Added IAHTI executive director Jeremy Lewis: “I personally believe this bill will give victims a second shot at life — to get jobs, go to college, vote, become productive members of society.”
Florida Department of Juvenile Justice human trafficking director Tyson Elliott said his agency has added new questions to its intake assessment to find victims who are booked on charges unrelated to prostitution. For example, traffickers sometimes brand their victims with tattoos, so evaluators who notice a youth’s ink will ask its meaning and who paid for it. However, he and others said there’s a lack of trauma therapists to treat victims once they are identified. Also lacking are safe houses, toiletries and other resources to help those rescued.
“In the state as a whole, that’s one of the most glaring needs we have — what to do with (victims) and who to refer them to once we’ve identified them,” he said.
Learn more at Keyonna Summers’ Tampa Bay Times article: New state laws will ease toll on human-trafficking victims.