For years, the girls who sell their bodies on certain Miami street corners and in hotels were treated as criminals. But new state laws have instructed police and judges to look at the wider context and consider them victims of sex exploitation.
South Florida is the third-busiest area for sex trafficking in the United States, the Department of Justice says, and oftentimes it is children who are drawn into the web without even realizing it.
“You always think that it is not going to happen to you and that that would never happen. It turns around, and it is you, and you don’t know what to do,” one former prostitute said. “April” agreed to an interview as long as her identity was concealed. The 18-year-old was in and out of prostitution as an adolescent and eventually jailed. But the passage of the Safe Harbor Act, which went into effect in January, transformed the way she was treated in the justice system. She was released from jail and given access to treatment for abuse. The new law is designed to ensure the safety of child victims who have been trafficked for sex, according to the Florida Department of Children and Families.
There are cases where girls or boys are kidnapped and forced into the sex trade, but in most cases they are seduced by men who make them feel loved and offer them other stability, said Maria Clara Rodriguez, the outreach and education supervisor at Kristi House, an advocacy center dedicated to fighting child sexual abuse. “The girls don’t see themselves as victims. ‘No, this is my boyfriend; we are going to get married; he promised me the world.’ They believe that,” she said.
Once girls enter the sex industry, their average life expectancy is seven years, with homicide and AIDS being the top killers, Rodriguez said.
With Florida’s new laws, police take an outreach approach rather than an enforcement approach with juveniles who are selling their bodies. Miami-Dade police use undercover officers to determine whether a girl is prostituting herself and whether she is a juvenile. “A lot of juveniles do not identify themselves as victims, and it takes several interviews of going back and getting the trust of the juvenile to let them know that we are there to help them,” police Sgt. Nicole Donnelly said. If the girls are minors, police check to see whether they are reported missing and will try to reunite them with family.
Learn more at Adriana Hauser’s and Mariano Castillo’s CNN article: A heavy toll for the victims of human trafficking.
Source: Cable News Network, Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.