(Miami-Dade County, FL) -- Plans to create safe houses for sexually-exploited children and teens could soon be underway in Miami-Dade County. On May 10, 2011, the Public Safety and Healthcare Administration Committee passed unanimously a resolution sponsored by Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz for the County Executive Office to identify Miami-Dade County resources that can be used to create these safe houses and collaborate with local agencies dedicated to the well-being of abused children.
A similar bill to create safe houses statewide, HB 145, did not pass the 2011 Florida Legislative Session. However, the staff analysis in the bill estimated that approximately 293,000 youths in the United States are currently at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation. The majority of victims of commercial sexual exploitation are runaways who come from homes where they have been abused or abandoned and become involved in prostitution as a means of financial support, while other youths are forced into prostitution through abduction, pressure from adults, or through deceptive agreements between parents and traffickers.
Trudy Novicki, Executive Director of the local Kristi House, explained to committee members the severity of human trafficking in Miami-Dade County. "The FBI designated Miami as one of 13 hubs for domestic minor sex trafficking in the U.S.," said Novicki, who also stated that the average age of entry into prostitution for U.S. children, primarily girls, is 13 years old.
While Kristi House and other child advocacy organizations try to help victims of human trafficking, Novicki stated that pulling these children out of the cycle is difficult. Placing them into runaway shelters proves to be ineffective as youths will voluntarily leave in order to continue prostituting themselves. Pimps have also been known to wait outside of runaway shelters looking for youths. A possible solution, urged by Novicki and pushed in Commissioner Diaz's legislation, is to create gender-specific shelters solely dedicated to helping sex-trafficking victims get off the street. The shelters would have 24-hour staff specialized in treating sexually-exploited minors, and that would provide a secure environment.
"It's becoming apparent that Miami-Dade officials need to address this problem and facilitate a better method of reaching out to children and teens who are victims of sex abuse," said Commissioner Diaz. "These safe houses would provide a shelter for minors who feel like they have no other choice but to go back out on the streets, or who fear retaliation from pimps or other toxic individuals in their lives if they try to escape."
Representatives from the Miami-Dade Police Department's Special Victims Bureau also gave their first-hand experiences. "[Sexually-exploited minors are] a population that keeps falling through the cracks as far as services go," said Sgt. Gisele Cueva. "You just can't put one of these kids in a runaway shelter and expect them to be all better afterward, after all the trauma that they've experienced. They do need wraparound services. They do need a safe house."
Specifically, Commissioner Diaz's resolution asks appropriate County staff to locate unused space, leases, buildings, lots, or other property that could potentially be used for a safe house. In addition, the legislation asks staff to identify any grants or funding for which the County could apply, and review existing contracts with community-based organizations. The County will work with groups like Kristi House and law enforcement to devise a strategy for helping sexually-exploited children.
The resolution was also co-sponsored by each commissioner that seats on the Public Safety and Healthcare Administration and will be heard by the full Board of County Commissioners at a later date to be decided. For more information, please contact Commissioner Diaz's office at 305-599-1200.