January 18, 2017
Orlando, FL – This week, the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) reported that there were 1,892 reports of human trafficking of minors last year. That’s a staggering 54 percent increase from 2015. Does this mean that our state is losing the battle against this horrible crime?
The numbers might seem to suggest this, but numbers can be misleading. The increase is most likely the result of a new screening tool implemented over the past year. This tool is used by DCF and the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) with Florida youth when they first encounter them and asks a few additional questions to help identify those who may trafficking victims.
Dr. Leslie Gavin, the Florida Abolitionist Director of Clinical Services, was involved in the tool’s creation. She got involved because she realized if we could identify victims early on, they have a much greater chance at having a better life. However, for years, victims were being missed and often prosecuted for crimes they were forced to commit.
The new tool changes all that. Now, instead of slipping through the cracks, more victims are being discovered. Now they are being helped. They are receiving care instead of conviction.
Traffickers manipulate their victims to distrust law enforcement, so they often won’t cooperate at first. Early identification of victims allows them to be treated as such. When a victim-centered approach is taken, these children will see they can trust people who want to help them. This can lead to cooperation with investigations that result in bringing traffickers to justice.
Florida’s initiative to form a Statewide Council on Human Trafficking led by the Attorney General has also improved human trafficking training throughout the state. Secretary of Families, Mike Carroll said, “The increase in reports of human trafficking is evidence that the coordinated effort across state agencies to train professionals is increasing awareness and bringing more of these cases to light.”
So to answer the question, “Is human trafficking getting worse in Florida?” Maybe, but maybe we’re doing a better job identifying what’s been happening for years. Maybe the rise in numbers means we are, in fact, having victory in some battles on our way to winning the war against modern-day slavery.