Over the past 10 years in Hernando County, there have been no verified human trafficking cases reported in the county.
But a lack of numbers doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem, and isn’t keeping local law enforcement and community agencies from working together to educate themselves on the issue, and train how to respond. Shannon Sokolowski, executive director of the Dawn Center, said human trafficking can be “underreported,” or counted under different classifications.
“We actually shelter quite a few prostituted women that come through (the Dawn Center), and that’s trafficking. But how do we classify them? We’re classifying them as domestic violence because they are intimate partners, who are pimping them out, or we classify them as sexual abuse victims, so they’re not being tagged as trafficked persons,” Sokolowski said.
The Dawn Center recently decided to update its classification system. Victims will still be classified by type of abuse, but the new system will allows subclasses, such as labor or sex trafficking, Sokolowski said. She expects the new system to be in place by the end of the month.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has declared Florida a “zero tolerance” state for human trafficking and in 2012 the legislature increased penalties for human trafficking.
Learn more at Wendy Joan Biddlecombe’s Hernando Today article: Agencies work to spread human trafficking awareness in Hernando.