The influx of an estimated 200,000 visitors this week to South Florida also will test state agencies and local governments in their implementation of a new human-trafficking law.
Lawmakers adopted a bill in 2019 that places reporting responsibilities on massage parlor, strip club, and hotel operators, and requires hospitality workers be trained in spotting trafficking victims and how to report suspicions to law enforcement.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said Friday in Miami that the state and local governments are prepared for the first test of the new law.
“Now, more than ever,” Moody said, “it is important that we enlist more partners in our fight to end human trafficking. We are bolstering our efforts to combat this atrocious crime leading up to this worldwide event.”
With tourism the state’s largest industry, Florida ranks third in the nation in reported cases of sexual exploitation and trafficking of minors, behind California and Texas.
The most common victims are white females between the ages of 14-17, according to the Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability (OPPAGA).
The highest number of victims were Broward, Miami-Dade, Duval and Orange, the agency documents.
To address this, lawmakers in 2019 adopted House Bill 851, filed by Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, and its Senate companion, Senate Bill 540, sponsored by Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, that requires police officers, medical professionals and hospitality workers, including those employed at hotels and massage parlors, to undergo training to recognize potential trafficking victims.
“This law sends a powerful message to traffickers and pimps: the state of Florida is closed for business,” Book said after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law.
A controversial component of Book’s bill absorbed into the law DeSantis signed is those cited for soliciting prostitutes will be included in a database that law enforcement and hotels can access.
What the new law does:
• Establishes a “Soliciting for Prostitution Public Database” that lists the names, addresses, and photographs of those who were convicted of or plead no contest to soliciting prostitution, a misdemeanor for first-time offenders. Names would be removed after five years if there are no repeat offenses.
• Creates a nonprofit organization to develop training to deter human trafficking and recommend best practices for reporting trafficking and helping victims.
• Mandates workers in fields that require professional licenses — massage therapists, doctors, chiropractors, acupuncturists — complete a one-hour course on human trafficking.
• Requires hotels to provide annual training on human-trafficking awareness to housekeepers and front-desk workers.
• Requires police officers to complete four hours of training in investigating human trafficking.
Moody said the trucking, ride-share, and hotel industries have embraced the new law, praising Truckers Against Trafficking and the Florida Trucking Association for its training seminar offering tips to truck drivers on how to spot and report suspected human trafficking; Uber for sponsoring a week of trafficking education events; and Miami hoteliers for its “No Room for Trafficking” campaign.
How effective the new law ultimately will depend on businesses and employees, Moody said.
“We will need everyone’s help in fighting this evil, which is why I am busy working with local business leaders and industry professionals to have more eyes and ears on the ground,” she said.