Tallahassee, Fla.-The Florida House of Representatives Healthy Families Subcommittee today passed Proposed Committee Bill HFS 14-02 to better care for survivors of human trafficking and ensure they are treated as victims rather than criminals. Human trafficking of minors is a growing problem in Florida and across the country. As part of the Legislature’s Work Plan 2014 “Protecting Florida’s Vulnerable” initiative, this bill seeks to help these children overcome abusive relationships and grow into healthy adults.
“We would like to believe that terrible things like this don’t happen in our state, but the reality is any child can be lured into this type of situation and be horribly abused,” said State Representative Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart), Chair of the Healthy Families Subcommittee. “In the past, we have done a great deal to toughen criminal penalties for traffickers. This bill focuses on the victims of these crimes, providing safe places for these children to live and receive the therapy they need to recover.”
The bill creates new administrative requirements for the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and community-based care agencies to ensure they have the infrastructure to respond to the commercial sexual exploitation of children. It provides clear standards for safe houses where child victims can live and receive treatment and authorizes DCF to create safe foster homes, making sure these residences are of acceptable quality. The bill also creates a pilot program to test a secure safe house where sexually exploited dependent children, for whom no less restrictive placement will work, can be safe and receive therapy to set them on the road to healing.
In January, House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz announced Work Plan 2014, which included “Protecting Vulnerable Floridians” as a priority. To read more about Work Plan 2014, please visit the Florida House of Representatives online.