A bill that would expand the rights of human trafficking survivors gained unanimous support in the House Friday.
The bill (SB 1826) contains a slew of provisions. Republican Rep. Jackie Toledo, the House companion bill sponsor, moved to adopt the Senate bill on Thursday.
“This bill is a step in ensuring we can help victims regain normalcy in life,” Toledo said. “This bill assures victims that they are not criminals. It confirms that the State of Florida will protect the victims and survivors of human trafficking and that our state does not tolerate its presence in our borders.”
The proposal would expand the definition of human trafficking to include “purchasing, patronizing, (or) procuring” another person for the purpose of exploitation of that person, according to a staff analysis.
It would also make communication between an advocate and a victim privileged.
Further, human trafficking victims would be allowed to expunge their criminal record at no cost if the crimes happened while the person was part of the human trafficking scheme.
“Nobody wakes up in the morning and says: Hey, today, I’m going to sell my body,” Toledo said on the House floor. “They don’t wake up with the goal of having their body or labor exploited for someone else’s gain.”
Youth are often the target of traffickers. The average age of a minor who is trafficked is 11 to 13 years old, the DOJ reports.
The bill would expand charges committed against minors to include victims believed to be under 18 years old.
“This is happening in our backyards,” Toledo said.
Florida ranks third in the nation for reported human trafficking cases. In 2018, Florida received 767 reports of human trafficking cases of which 149 were minors, according to the staff analysis.
Speaking on the House floor, Republican Rep. Toby Overdorf suggested the U.S. and Mexico border crises will be a factor in Florida’s battle with human trafficking.
“As we see an influx of immigrants across our state due to various policies that we’re seeing on the federal side, we’re going to see more and more unfortunately,” Overdorf said.