New Fla. law improves protections for sex trafficking victims, makes it easier to expunge records

A sex trafficking victim waits for customers.
A sex trafficking victim waits for customers. | REUTERS/CLARO CORTES

Florida has passed a new bill aimed at bolstering efforts to protect human trafficking victims and foster better communication between advocates and victims at a time when data suggests that nearly half of trafficking victims do not have anyone reach out to help.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 1826 into law last Tuesday as advocates commend the Sunshine State for having some of the strongest human trafficking demand laws in the United States. The bill was passed in the state House and Senate unanimously earlier this year. 

The new law prioritizes victims of human trafficking by providing protection and advocacy for the victims and enables human traffickers and those looking to purchase sex to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. 

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Among other things, the bill allows for communication between a victim of sex trafficking and trained victim’s advocate to be confidential in certain circumstances and prevents court clerks from charging fees for petitions of expunction for sex trafficking victims’ criminal records. Sex trafficking victims are often forced to commit crimes under the pressure of their sex traffickers, advocates say.  

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation, an advocacy group founded in 1962 that seeks to expose all forms of sexual abuse and exploitation, praised the measure. NCOSE attorney Pansy Watson said the new law “strengthens trafficking laws in a number of different ways.”

“The process prior was a little bit more complex. They could only expunge one offense at a time. This allows them to expunge multiple offenses,” Watson said in an interview with The Christian Post. “Oftentimes, what a trafficker might do is ...  force the victims to commit crimes. And there might be multitudes of misdemeanor crimes and maybe certain types of felonies that appear on their [the victims’] record. But they were forced to do so under some form of coercion.”

Further, the law establishes that “the confidential communication helps with the victim’s protection,” Watson explained. 

“They’re not being forced to have to take a stand when they expunge their record or appear in court,” she said. “If a victim has been traumatized, it can compound the trauma to have to confront people and tell their story again and again.”

Senate Bill 1826 authorizes judges to make procedural accommodations for victims of human sex trafficking in judicial proceedings.

The new law further expands the definition of human trafficking to include “purchasing patronizing or procuring” another person for exploitation and the trafficking of “an adult believed by the person to be a child.” 

Additionally, the definition of “obtain” is amended to mean “in relation to labor, commercial sexual activity, or services, to receive, take possession of, or take custody of another person or secure performance thereof.”

Florida state Rep. Jackie Toledo thanked DeSantis on Twitter for “signing this much needed bill that puts human traffickers on notice that Florida is NOT open to human trafficking!” In an earlier tweet, Toledo stressed that the bill “reduces the barriers survivors face when trying to live a normal life.”

NCOSE CEO Dawn Hawkins said in a statement that the legal and procedural changes in the bill will have a “real impact in the lives of survivors of human trafficking, supporting them in both the criminal justice system and in their healing journey.”

In a time when some jurisdictions around the U.S. are systematically letting offenders off the hook, Florida is taking the crime seriously enough to continue fighting one of the fastest-growing criminal industries in the world.  

“Florida is absolutely taking the lead with human trafficking demand laws,” Watson said. “Only a handful of other states have very strong demand laws and Florida is probably the most renowned, and especially right now because of Gov. DeSantis.” 

The NCOSE lawyer said that other states are also taking steps to tackle sex trafficking. 

“Hawaii has just passed a bill that describes the demand for sex as commercial sexual exploitation, and it is very similar,” Watson said. “Maine recently attempted to pass a bill that would essentially stop punishing the prostituted person but punish sex buyers as commercial sexual exploiters. And the governor, unfortunately, vetoed that because she had concerns about the way it was written.”

According to the Guardian Group, an organization whose mission is to prevent sex trafficking of women and children while enabling partners to identify victims and predators in the US, 44% of sex trafficking victims report that no one reached out and offered help. Another 26% reported rarely ever being offered support. Also, 55% of victims say they attended school at some point while being trafficked.

The Guardian Group contends that everyone in society must do better in capitalizing and counteracting sex trafficker’s efforts because it could be happening in the next aisle of the grocery store or their backyard.

The hotline for human trafficking is 1-888-373-7888.

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