Florida among top three states for human trafficking response

ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida is one of the top three states for human trafficking in the country, but as calls to the Human Trafficking Hotline increased, so did the state’s efforts to provide services to survivors.


National experts say those efforts are starting to pay off.

From the theme parks, to our beaches; as a tourism hub, Florida’s top industry also means our state is a hot spot for human trafficking.  New data shows the way the state has responded is helping set national standards.

“Human trafficking is happening in every state across the nation,” Kristi Wells of The Safehouse Project said.  “But some states have taken a more comprehensive approach to increasing survivor identification.”

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Wells is the CEO of The Safehouse Project.  The national nonprofit just released a 117-page report, taking a comprehensive look at the number of cases of trafficking reported in each state and the services in place to help survivors.

Florida ranked third for its continuum of care, falling behind only California and Texas, based on the group’s analysis.

“So in Florida, they identify 13 reports of human trafficking per 100,000 people,” Wells said.  “Part of the reason that’s the case is that they are training law enforcement, the juvenile justice system, the child welfare system, prosecutors, students, health care, and hospitality.”

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9 Investigates has told you about those efforts over the last decade.  Law enforcement has shifted its focus away from prostitution arrests, and everyone who graduates from UCF’s Rosen College of Hospitality is trained to help identify victims, better preparing new generations of tourism leaders and workers to help stop the crime at our hotels.

But while Florida has made strides there, it’s still missing the mark when it comes to requiring similar training for teachers.

“We do believe that training educators to identify trafficking is really critical. They’re mandatory reporters, they’re engaging with these kids,” Wells said.

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The report also showed Florida has no services for male survivors of trafficking, and that residential services for girls under 18 are limited.

That need extends beyond Florida.  Right now, only 286 nonprofits around the country provide housing for survivors.  That means only 1600 or so beds are available nationwide.

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“Without a safe place to go, once somebody is identified, 80% will end up back in traffickers’ hands,” Wells said.

The report also found our state is lacking in services for transgender survivors of trafficking.  It estimates that more than 78,000 people are trafficked in our state every year, which is about the same number of people who live in Kissimmee.

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Karla Ray

Karla Ray, WFTV.com

Karla Ray anchors Eyewitness News This Morning on Saturday and Sundays, and is an investigative reporter for the 9 Investigates unit.