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Florida moves to help trafficking victims

6:23 PM, Jan 23, 2013   |    comments
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Tallahassee, Florida -- Florida is taking action to rid itself of an unwanted distinction -- it is the third largest human trafficking state in the nation.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi says the problem is so ugly no one wants to believe it's happening in the Sunshine State. But the sad truth is, young girls just 12 or 13 years old, are forced into the sex trade, forced labor and domestic service.

Bondi and members of the Florida Cabinet on Wednesday recognized several people working to end this form of modern-day slavery.

They praised Marty Stubblefield and his daughter Ellie, who raised $40,000 to start a shelter for trafficking victims in Mumbai, India.

Stubblefield said many trafficking victims are children.

"Not adult slavery like we think of. We're talking about kids who are defenseless and their parents are lied to and suddenly these children are shipped from Greece to India, or from Ethiopia to the United States."

Nelson Diaz, of Kristi House in Miami, was also singled out for the center's efforts rescuing victims of human trafficking and sexual abuse.

Diaz said one of the state's first shelters for young trafficking victims will soon open.

"Many people don't realize that the sexual human trafficking of children occurs in this country. It occurs in this city, in the seat of our government. Most people think it happens abroad -- and it does, and it's a big problem abroad -- but it's a big problem at home here. So we created Project GOLD to help treat these child victims."

Project GOLD at Kristi House stands for Girls Owning their Lives and Dreams. It helps trafficking victims recover from their experience.

Terry Coonan, of Florida State's Human Rights Center, said Florida has just passed some of the best anti-trafficking laws in the nation. Now the challenge is to implement those laws, as well as train law enforcement and businesses to root out the trafficking supply chain.

"It's all about demand. Whether it's demand for commercial sex or demand for cheaper products, and part of our battle now within the human rights community and within Florida, will be rooting out that sense of demand."

Florida's tougher human trafficking laws include the Safe Harbor Act. It treats teen girls and others caught up in trafficking as victims, rather than criminals, and gives them a place to stay in safe houses.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said that's a key component of any solution.

"That's why these safe houses are so very, very important. Especially for our younger victims and our immigrants, who are so scared they're going to be deported if they report it. We have to protect all of them."

Bondi asks people to report suspected trafficking cases to the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

It's estimated 27 million people are enslaved worldwide, including two million people in the United States.

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