In one ranking no one will brag about, Florida ranks third in the nation for reported human trafficking cases. As Florida’s Congressional Delegation met for the first time in 2020, the topic drove the agenda.
“Human trafficking is a vile crime against children and women that flourishes in the dark shadows of society,” said Rep. Vern Buchanan, Delegation co-chair. “We need to bring it into the light, expose these atrocities and end what amounts to modern-day slavery.”
Executives from Sarasota-based Selah Freedom flew to Washington to press for action. Elizabeth Fisher Good, the organization’s founder, testified that early education must be part of any effort to reduce human trafficking.
She said there must also be an awareness of online activity, a ubiquitous part of the modern teenage experience.
“1 out of 9 children are now approached on social media,” Fisher Good said. “It isn’t stranger danger anymore. That’s why education starting in kindergarten is vital.”
Congress members also heard from Dr. Heidi Schaeffer, a member of the Broward Human Trafficking Coalition, who traveled to Washington, D.C. “to increase awareness of this issue to as many healthcare professionals as possible – plus to the general public.”
Rep. Alcee Hastings, Florida’s other Delegation co-chair, has been working with Buchanan’s office on bipartisan legislation. The Boca Raton Democrat and Sarasota Republican introduced the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Prevention Training Act of 2019 (HR 4388) in September. Eight of the bill’s 19 co-sponsors represent Florida districts.
“Human trafficking victims suffer unspeakable acts of violence and exploitation,” Buchanan said. “This bill will address the problem in our home state and across the country. Congress needs to move swiftly and get this measure to the President’s desk.”
Thirteen of Florida’s 27 Congress members attended the Delegation meeting.
There, they heard from national experts on the growing crime.
“When we launched the war on drugs, everyone knew there was a war on drugs,” said Roger DeHart, founder of the group First S.T.O.P. (Saving Teens And Others From Predators).
“If we took that same approach with human trafficking, we might have more of an impact.”