January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and Floridians are giving far more than lip service to the occasion. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this movement? Florida is targeting sex buyers, as well as the businesses that enable these purchases.
Seeking harsher penalties for johns
On January 10, 2022, Republican State Rep. Jackie Toledo, of Tampa, filed a new human trafficking bill. HB 1439 would make it a third-degree felony to pay for sex. Currently, first-time sex procurement is charged as a first-degree misdemeanor.
Here’s how the two classifications differ in Florida:
- A first-degree misdemeanor is punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
- A third-degree felony is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
These heightened penalties and punishments could be enough to make johns think twice about patronizing sex-for-hire services.
Addressing the role of hotels and motels
The new legislation takes things a step further by bringing enabling businesses into the equation. HB 1439 would ban hourly rates at hotels, motels, and vacation rentals.
Levin Papantonio Rafferty (LPR) is part of a team of law firms leading unprecedented litigation to hold the lodging industry and other businesses accountable for looking the other way when it comes to human trafficking happening right under their roofs.
"You should not be profiting from things you know, or should have known, involve trafficking," LPR attorney Kim Adams told Pensacola News Journal in an October 2021 interview.
To date, this legal push involves the filing of more than 30 federal cases nationwide. Some lawsuits blast websites like PornHub (owned by MindGeek) for failing to identify the ages and consent of individuals who appeared in its videos. However, others, like one filed in Miami, aims to hold accountable hotels like Hilton Worldwide Holdings and Marriott International for their roles in enabling human trafficking—and profiting from it.
According to the Miami lawsuit, the plaintiff, 15 years old at the time, was drugged and advertised on Craigslist. She was sold at hotels that appear as defendants in the lawsuit.
The complaint sheds a blinding light on the circumstances that should have triggered an awareness on behalf of hotel staff: "A continuing daily parade of buyers would arrive at the defendant hotels' locations and enter into rooms they either did not rent, or did not rent for the purpose of an overnight stay. One by one, dozens to hundreds of unrelated buyers used defendant hotels' rooms and services to sexually exploit, rape, sexually abuse, and physically assault [the plaintiff]."
Relieving trafficking victims and gathering data
Next, the bill speaks to sex trafficking survivors, who, as victims, would be given the chance to have their petitions to expunge records made confidential.
Finally, the new legislation would use the University of South Florida as a repository for statewide human trafficking data. The resource would help state agencies and law enforcement to get a better handle on trafficking in the state, develop stronger initiatives to combat the problem, and use interventions to better serve human trafficking victims.
Training employees how to recognize signs of human trafficking
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody is enlisting the help of partners in the community to be on the lookout for signs of human trafficking and report suspected incidents. On January 12, 2022, Moody issued a call for “soldiers” at a news conference in the Florida Capitol with Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, the Florida Alliance to End Human Trafficking, and business leaders.
Moody hopes to develop a statewide team that will be known as The 100 Percent Club. Members of this community will pledge to train 100 percent of their employees on how to safely and effectively spot and report suspected human trafficking.
The first members of the 100 Percent Club are PGT Innovations, one of the largest private-sector employers in Sarasota County, and Landstar Systems, Inc., one of the largest trucking companies in Florida, according to a statement from the Attorney General’s office.
PGT Industries, Florida’s largest door and window manufacturer, was the first business to fall in line with the program, training 100 percent of its employees on spotting signs of human trafficking and taking action.
Moody and the Florida Alliance to End Human Trafficking will deepen and broaden the reach of this vital training program by partnering with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, as well as other Florida businesses, to set a goal of 100,000 individuals completing the human trafficking course in 2022.
Businesses can go online to learn more about the Florida Coalition to End Human Trafficking’s one-hour training course.
Tapping into Truckers
Florida boasts a robust highway system that covers 12,000 miles—ideal for the trafficking of children, women, and men. Since October 2020, the Florida Highway Heroes outreach campaign has worked to engage commercial drivers throughout the Sunshine State in the war against human trafficking.
More than 500,000 letters were sent to CDL holders across Florida with details on how to become a certified TAT (Trucker Against Trafficking) by learning how to detect and report trafficking. As of January 2022, 4,600 commercial drivers and 400 Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) officers have received this training.
Last week, FHP initiated a campaign to further enlighten truck drivers of the human trafficking problem and engage them in fighting to prevent or stop it from happening. Officers handed out Truckers Against Trafficking cards to commercial truck drivers during enforcement stops and roadside inspections across the state.
Engaging the Public
Moody also announced in a press release that her office is working with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to create a statewide tip line that will be directly monitored by FDLE for calls of suspected human trafficking. The tip line is (800) 342-0820. Alert cards, which will be distributed across the state, provide simple steps on how to report human trafficking using the designated number.
Embracing the Nordic Model
The Shelter for Abused Women and Children in Collier County is working with law enforcement to introduce a new tool to sharpen their strategy in the fight against human trafficking.
Naples Police Chief Tom Weschler told WINK News about the Nordic model, also known as the “end demand” or “equality model.” The technique involves criminalizing sex buyers and decriminalizing prostitutes. Law enforcement tracks down the people who are purchasing people online—and holds these buyers accountable.
The Nordic model applies some rather basic economics principles: Traffickers see the people they sell as objects. They become viable products only when a customer base for the object exists. By targeting the customers of human trafficking “products,” the Nordic model chips away at the business model that makes human trafficking so lucrative.
Implementing the Nordic Model involves tracking individuals who visit websites that enable the procurement of prostitutes. Ninety percent of these women are not selling their bodies online willingly but are being coerced to do so by a trafficker or pimp, Linda Oberhaus, CEO of the Shelter for Abused Women and Children, told WINK News.
According to Nordic Model Now! (NMN), websites that enable the procurement of prostitutes provide a number of features that police can use to track and connect with potential human trafficking customers. In the same way that Uber lets riders rate drivers, these sites let “punters” review the women whom they have purchased for sex services.
In turn, traffickers/pimps use the ratings to determine rates for each woman and to punish those who are not being compliant.
When law enforcement identifies a person who is visiting such a website with the possible intent of purchasing sex services, police will send the buyer notice and advise them that they could be arrested if they continue to visit this type of website.
Sweden passed the Nordic Model as new legislation in 1999. Norway, Finland, and Iceland followed. All countries have experienced a drop in sex trafficking and child prostitution.
Men getting other men to join the fight
Gentle’men Against Domestic Violence is spreading the word about the Nordic model and helping to raise awareness of the need to seriously crackdown on human trafficking. The group held a casino royal event on Thursday, January 13, and raised over $300,000 to put toward this effort.
Report Human Trafficking
The National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888
The U.S. Department of Justice Hotline: 1-888-428-7581
Florida Abuse Hotline: 1-800-96-ABUSE (1-800-962-2873)
Local Authorities: 911 or *FHP (*347)