Two Republican members of Congress from Florida made strong statements against human trafficking Thursday, calling it a “sick and insidious” version of “modern day slavery,” ahead of potential legislative action.
U.S. Reps. Michael Waltz and Kat Cammack hosted a roundtable, which included regional local officials, a member of a specialty task force, and representatives of the Department of Homeland Security.
“We have to attack this at the federal, at the state, and the local level,” Waltz said. “It’s sick and insidious.”
Waltz focused on Northeast Florida, and how high-profile events come to the region, ranging from college football to Daytona motor races. Those can be funnels for human trafficking that, it turns out, are fed every day of the year by a cycle of debasement and exploitation.
“I’m particularly focused on adult entertainment venues, and what we do there,” Waltz said, regarding how they can be a focus for this and how he is exploring federal legislation to raise the age of performers from 18 to 21, as Jacksonville did. That law is currently being challenged in a federal district court.
“This really does hurt people if they survive it,” Waltz said, noting the average age for trafficking victims is just 17 years old.
Cammack, in her first term representing North Central Florida, was no less passionate than her Republican congressional colleague as she dialed in from Miami.
“This is an issue that is very near and dear to my heart,” Cammack said, noting her own work for eight years providing oversight on a task force organized by her former boss, Rep. Ted Yoho.
Cammack noted the “stigmas and stereotypes associated with human trafficking,” and described one Sheriff downplaying her concerns, using pejorative and sexist language.
“I remember one Sheriff in particular who,” Cammack said, “he said to me, ‘Well, Gee, Kat, why do we need to focus on that? That doesn’t happen here. Is that just a ‘hug a ho’ type program?”
Cammack did not identify the Sheriff. But it was clear that his dismissive comments rattled her.
“I was so jarred by that comment. Just blown away that somebody could say something so obtuse, so awful, and was in a position of leadership, not realizing the severity of the situation. This is modern day slavery.”
Florida faces a number of challenges outlined by panelists on the call. They range from the aforementioned big cities and big events as well as massage parlors and the online sphere, with apps and websites described as a “breeding ground” for the sordid practice.