Non-profit professionals, lawmakers, advocates and faith-based leaders poured into the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center on National Human Trafficking Awareness Day for Traffick Stop 2018 to pause, reflect and take action toward defeating human trafficking. The following is an interview with Linda Alexionok, president of Voices for Florida and one of Traffick Stop’s organizing sponsors, regarding some key takeaways from the event.
Q: How big of a problem is sex trafficking in Florida?
A: It is a persistent and pervasive crime throughout our country, and Florida is not an exception. Although progress is being made, the state ranks third in the nation for reports of human trafficking. Historically, sex trafficking has been a low-risk, high-profit crime for traffickers. But since 2012, the Legislature has enacted a series of bills that provide legal protections to sex trafficked victims while increasing penalties for those creating the demand. Today, Florida’s sex trafficking laws are among the strongest in the nation. But, to be truly effective in addressing this egregious crime, more remains to be done to break the cycle by reaching victims and helping them heal.
Q: What are the challenges that Florida is facing?
A: Inadequate services for victims and survivors is one of the largest challenges for the state. Throughout Florida, large gaps in services remain for serving the totality of needs of this vulnerable population. It’s especially prevalent for those who need emergency housing, and services for males, LGBTQ, pregnant women, intellectually disabled individuals and young parents.
Another challenge is due to the lack of evidence-based treatment models designed exclusively to assist victims of sex trafficking. As a result, victims that receive services are often placed in programs tailored for victims of other types of trauma, even though their needs differ.
In addition, victims require a variety of services such as physical and mental health care, housing, assistance navigating the legal system, educational support, public assistance and more. Therefore, coordination of cross-sector stakeholders is vital to ensure that needs are accounted for and do not overlap. Ideally, funding should follow the victims, which is rarely accomplished.
Finally, there should be standardized care for all victims and survivors throughout the state. Whether a victim is identified in Leon county or Hillsborough county, they are deserving of the same quality and standard of care from service providers. Currently, there are many gaps in quality care that need to be addressed, especially in rural areas.
Q: What does the latest research say about effective service interventions for victims of sex trafficking?
A: A recent report by the National Academy of Science regarding child sexual exploitation and sex trafficking in the United States has found very few evaluations or published reports of specific victim and support services, and even fewer peer-reviewed studies on best practices for programs serving sex trafficked victims.
However, some promising practices for serving child victims of trafficking have been identified. These include the use of survivor-mentors; assessing the individual needs of victims and ensuring access to the most suitable emergency and long-term services; facilitating communication among service providers; and preventing placement barriers through diverse treatment options and coordinated case management. In addition, the service framework should ensure that victims have individualized treatment plans, and victim assistance should be provided through trauma-competent care.
To advance the knowledge base regarding promising best practices, Voices for Florida developed a Statewide Promising Best Practice Guidelines to Support a Continuum of Services for Victims of Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking.
Q: Can sex trafficking be stopped?
A: As long as the demand to buy sex remains in this country and it continues to be a lucrative business, sex trafficking will continue to be a complex problem. Like any industry, sex trafficking is market-driven and follows the laws of supply and demand. Simply put, without demand there would be no supply. We are very encouraged by the leadership of King County in Seattle, Washington through their Operation on Demand initiative. This initiative is a large-scale effort to deter men from buying sex and is already showing reductions of commercial sexual exploitation. Forbes recently published an article about this initiative. This is one example of work being conducted to decrease demand with the hopes of eradicating the selling of our children for sex.
Q: What can the average person do to help?
A: People can help tremendously by educating themselves on the signs of trafficking and reporting suspicious activity to the National Human Trafficking Hotline 1-888-373-7888. Anyone who suspects the abuse or coercion of a child in Florida is a mandatory reporter. They should call the Florida Abuse Hotline immediately at 1-800-96-ABUSE. They can also support laws and policies that strengthen the state’s response to serving victims of exploitation and trafficking. I encourage everyone to stay informed on the latest progress being made by Voices for Florida Open Doors Outreach Network by subscribing to receive our updates delivered right to your inbox. Finally, people can donate to initiatives throughout the state, such as the Open Doors Outreach Network to support programs that serve this population. To make a secure donation to Open Doors, please visit our PayPal account.
Statewide Leadership and Innovation Training
As part of Voices for Florida’s commitment to continuous performance improvement, Open Doors Outreach Network service providers from six regions gathered in Tallahassee in mid-January for Voices’ first leadership and innovation summit. Voices would like to especially thank John Heron and Liz Miller from Dale Carnegie Institute for the intensive hands-on coaching and training on leadership and communication they provided. View photos of the training summit here.
Open Doors in the News
In case you missed it:
Jacksonville human trafficking victims increased 50 percent in 2017 – Action News Jax
Survivor shares her story on eve of Human Trafficking Awareness Day – WCTV
Sex trafficking survivor: ‘This is happening in Tallahassee’ – Tallahassee Democrat
Traffick Stop: Spreading Awareness About Human Trafficking – WTXL
Survivor Insights: The Role of Technology in Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking
A report by Thorn reveals the correlation between Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST) and the role technology plays in such an act. Through surveying 260 survivors of sex trafficking, Dr. Vanessa Bouché, uncovered some staggering statistics. Findings showed that online advertising after 2004 had risen to 65% while street advertising had decreased significantly. The report also provides statistics regarding the percentage of individuals who were approached online by their trafficker and average age of those who were sex trafficked. This information allows readers to understand the role technology has in relationship to sex trafficking and to assist in developing viable solutions to this egregious crime. Read Report
- SedNet Conference, February 16, 2018
Journey Church, 6225 Lake Gray Blvd Jacksonville, FL 32244
- Freedom Network USA Conference, April 4-5, 2018
Grand Hyatt, 1750 Welton Street, Denver, CO 80202
- The Children’s Campaign Super Heroes for Super Kids Celebration, April 5, 2018
Augustus B. Turnbull Center, 555 W Pensacola Street, Tallahassee, FL 32301
- Faith JuST Summit, June 20-22, 2018
Bethel University, 3900 Bethel Drive, St. Paul, MN 55112
- Shared Hope JuST Conference, October 16-18, 2018
San Diego, CA
If you believe you are a victim of or suspect human trafficking, please call:
Florida DCF Abuse Hotline: 1 (800) 962-2873 or National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1 (888) 373-7888
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