TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — There is a major update to 9 Investigates’ reporting on the lack of standards and inspections for human trafficking safehouses that serve adults. Wednesday night, a bill to regulate them was about to be sent to the governor’s desk.
Advocates are citing Channel 9 investigative reporter Karla Ray’s reporting as the catalyst for this legislation moving so quickly. Florida will have the first set of standards in the country after a series of stories by 9 Investigates.
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The bill calls for an audit of sorts of the 13 known safehouses across the state that serve adult human trafficking survivors and puts training, security, and trauma-informed services in place; something that hasn’t been required until now.
It comes after three different human trafficking survivors came forward with claims about the same safehouse in Central Florida, with claims that counseling was inconsistent, along with transportation to medical treatment and therapy sessions.
Read: Victims raise questions after changes to Florida human trafficking bill
“They just put you in a house and say, ‘Hey, I take care of her.’ But they really don’t,” one survivor said.
“There’s no accountability,” a second survivor said. “Where does the accountability come from to show that they’re actually doing what they say they’re doing when they get the funds that they get?”
Until now, there have been no state laws in place regulating or setting certification standards for adult human trafficking safehouses. Anyone can open one and solicit public grants or donations. But now, that’s about to change.
Read: Florida among top three states for human trafficking response
“Because of your reporting, there was really just more of an awareness of the need of that oversight of adult safe homes, and so the process started really moving along,” said Tomas Lares, who serves on the Florida Statewide Council on Human Trafficking Resources and Services Committee.
Lares was called in to lead a working group on the standards and best practices of adult safehomes. The group advised lawmakers on the bill that will create the first state-run certification process in the country.
“The result has just been an incredible, outstanding bill,” Lares said.
Read: Human trafficking survivors raise concerns about Central Florida safehouse, lack of state regulation
The legislation calls for an audit of the 13 known adult safehouses in the state to determine the number of beds available and how many people each serve per year, along with how much money the operation brings in and the source of those funds, including state and federal dollars.
Once that information is compiled, rules will be created to standardize safe and therapeutic environments, appropriate security and trauma-informed and survivor-centered services, requiring certification every two years.
“I’m really grateful for WFTV, for you, for all those different series that have been done in the last few months to really highlight some of the gaps,” Lares said.
The Florida Department of Children and Families will manage the certification, and the upfront cost is an estimated $407,000. The agency believes it’ll cost around $370,000 per year to certify the safehouses already in place across the state.
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