(Miami-Dade County, FL) -- New Miami-Dade legislation advocating for the strengthening of laws against human and sex trafficking was passed during a County Commission meeting on Tuesday, September 20, 2011. Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz sponsored an item that urges the Florida Legislature to follow suit with a law passed by the Georgia General Assembly earlier this year.
The new Georgia law, SB 200, signed into law this past May, imposes a 25-year minimum prison sentence for those convicted of using coercion to traffic someone under the age of 18; imposes a minimum 5-year prison sentence on those who pay for sex with a person 16 to 18 years of age; and delivers a minimum 10-year prison sentence on those who pay for sex with a child under the age of 16. The law went into effect July 1, 2011.
SB 200 also provides protections to children and adults engaged in prostitution by allowing them to avoid prosecution on prostitution charges if they cooperate with prosecutors and can prove that they were coerced into such activity through physical abuse, destruction of immigration documents, drug use or financial harm. Commissioner Diaz is asking Florida legislators to back a similar law to strike a balance between prosecuting criminals and protecting minors and adults forced into the sex trade.
The U.S. Department of State estimates that between 600,000 and 800,000 people, mostly women and children, are trafficked across national borders annually, with the number of persons trafficked into the U.S. each year estimated to range from 14,500 to 17,500. Likewise, the U.S. Department of Justice estimates 200,000 American children are at risk for trafficking into the sex industry each year. Florida is ranked as one of the top three states in the nation for human trafficking cases, along with New York and Texas, according to the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights at Florida State University.
Current Florida law provides penalties for human trafficking and sex trafficking, but does not guarantee a minimum prison sentence. Section 787.06, Florida Statutes, provides that it is a second-degree felony, punishable by a maximum prison term of 15 years and a maximum fine of $10,000, for any person to knowingly engage in or attempt to engage in human trafficking. Sex trafficking is regulated under chapter 796, Florida Statutes, related to prostitution, and Section 796.045 provides that any person who knowingly recruits, harbors or transports a person, knowing that force, fraud or coercion will be used to cause that person to engage in prostitution, has committed a second-degree felony, punishable by a maximum prison term of 15 years and a maximum fine of $10,000. The offense is considered a first-degree felony punishable by a maximum of 30 years in prison if sex trafficking is committed against a person who is under the age of 14 or results in death.
Florida’s laws against prostitution make it illegal to own or operate a place for the purpose of lewdness or prostitution with a punishment ranging from a second-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony, depending on how many times a subject is caught violating the law. For Diaz, it’s not enough.
“The last thing law enforcement wants to do is further victimize anyone who had no choice in taking part of a trafficking ring,” said Commissioner Diaz. “We want to help these people and let them know that they can contact the police. At the same time, anyone involved in the trafficking of children and adults needs to know that law enforcement will crack down on them. Georgia’s law on this matter strictly imposes a minimum 25-year sentence on anyone trafficking minors, and imposes at least a minimum 5-year sentence on anyone who pays to have sex with a minor. Florida should follow suit considering the alarmingly high rate of trafficking going on in our state.”
For more information, please contact Commissioner Diaz’s office at 305-599-1200.