TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A new human trafficking bill aims to further protect victims and go after sex buyers fueling the crime.
Republican State Rep. Jackie Toledo, of Tampa, filed HB 1439 on Monday.
If passed the bill would raise the penalty for first-time sex buying from a first-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony. The legislation would also ban hourly rates at hotels, motels and vacation rentals and give sex trafficking survivors the opportunity to make petitions to expunge their records confidential.
In addition, the bill would create a statewide human trafficking data repository at the University of South Florida to do the following:
"1. Collect and analyze anonymous human trafficking data to better understand the magnitude and trends in human trafficking in the state over time.
2. Help evaluate the effectiveness of various state-funded initiatives to combat human trafficking to determine the impact of such initiatives and to use evidence-based decision making in the determination of state investments in such initiatives.
3. To inform statewide efforts among law enforcement, state agencies, and other entities to combat human trafficking and apprehend and prosecute those persons responsible for human trafficking.
4. To better serve victims of human trafficking through evidence-based interventions that have proven effective."
I-Team Special Report: Kids Sold for Sex
Attorney Brent Woody, who joined Toledo alongside human trafficking survivor Laura Henderson, explained why that's significant when victims are trying to move on with their lives.
“Petitions to expunge contain highly sensitive information, such as traffickers and other victims' names, locations of safe houses, and personal, sensitive information about sexual abuse. Failure to keep that information confidential can even place a survivor at risk, at the retaliation of a trafficker, and could subject a survivor to embarrassment and harassment. It can also compromise the efforts of law enforcement in investigating traffickers," Woody said.
Woody is the executive director of Justice Restoration Center, a non-profit offering legal help to human trafficking survivors like Henderson, 4-year human trafficking survivor who is now three years sober.
Henderson is working to get her record expunged.
"The journey has not been easy. It's taken a long time to get through the healing and just to process it all. So having these bills passed is very important to me and it's very vital for my future — our future, the future of survivors," Henderson said.
For years, the ABC Action News I-Team has reported extensively on human trafficking in Tampa Bay, providing exclusive reports on victims sold for sex in our own backyard.
I-Team Human Trafficking Coverage
If you believe you are a victim of Human Trafficking or suspect an adult is a victim of human trafficking, please visit the National Human Trafficking Hotline, or call them at 1-888-373-7888. If you suspect a child is a victim, please call the Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE.
If you have a story you'd like the I-Team to investigate, email firstname.lastname@example.org.