TAMPA, Fla- — A week before the Super Bowl, State Representative Jackie Toledo (R-Tampa) announced the filing of House Bill 523, meant to improve services for human trafficking victims and help survivors chart a path towards a new life.
Under the proposed legislation, communications between human trafficking victim advocates and survivors will be kept private, implementing best practices for advocates statewide.
While survivors can currently expunge charges connected to their human trafficking, HB 523 would allow survivors to expunge charges that were dropped or ruled not guilty while also eliminating all clerk fees connected to the expungement.
The intent behind HB 523, Toledo said, is to also protect the survivor from reliving the trauma in a deposition. The state would be allowed to assume the role of a victim.
In a statement, Rep. Toledo said, “Survivors deserve to move on with their lives and should not live in fear. This means the state must ensure these criminals are prosecuted. As Tampa prepares to host the Super Bowl, we must show these bad actors that Florida will not tolerate these horrendous acts.”
Rep. Toledo was appointed to the Florida Statewide Council on Human Trafficking in December 2020.
“Florida is a hotbed for human trafficking, but despite being the third highest trafficking destination in the country - with half of all victims being children – our conviction rate for these crimes is woefully low,” according to Senator Lauren Book (D-Broward). “To stop traffickers in their tracks, we must give prosecutors the tools they need to bring these predators to justice – and that’s exactly what we aim to do.”
St. Pete Police Chief Anthony Holloway, who leads the Tampa Bay Human Trafficking Task Force, said he is happy to see the bill moving forward.
“It is important that victims of human trafficking are afforded the opportunity to move forward with their lives," Holloway said.
Executive Director of the Justice Restoration Center Executive Director Brent Woody represents 90 survivors of human trafficking that are eligible to expunge their criminal record, and has seen firsthand the barriers a record can create.
“Florida has been a leading national voice in understanding that trafficked persons are coerced into situations that result in criminal records,” Woody said. “A criminal record, no matter how undeserved, will stand in the way of obtaining safe housing, sustainable employment, education, and even a driver’s license.”