Wink News – Published: Oct 01, 2014 5:31 PM EDT
Updated: Oct 01, 2014 6:44 PM EDT
FORT MYERS, Fla. – Wednesday, laws are changing around the state of Florida, including those that involve human trafficking. It’s a crime that happens more than people realize, here in southwest Florida. It could be happening next-door. HB 989 not only punishes offenders, it also works to help victims recover.
“The first state law was in 2004 and it was about 5 lines long,” said Nola Theiss, Executive Director of Human Trafficking Awareness Partnerships. “It really basically said, yes, its is happening and we have federal laws to cover it.”
Florida’s laws against human trafficking have come a long way since then. Starting Wednesday, penalties increase for those who make their money from trafficking children. It’s a first-degree felony.
And, there’s now no statute of limitation. No matter how long ago the crime happened, the offender can be punished, making the victim eligible for compensation.
“I think it’s really significant because first of all, it costs a lot of money to help a victim recover from what they’ve gone through and that money can be used for that purpose,” Theiss said. “And, it can also be used for training and making sure that we can continue the success we’ve been having in finding victims.”
Also included in the law a new offense, it’s a third-degree felony to permanently brand victims. This awful crime is alive and well in our area. According to the Department of Children and Families, the number of local trafficking victims treated by Abuse Counseling and Treatment in Fort Myers, also known as ACT, shot up 50% between 2012 and 2013.
“Recognizing it is crucial,” Theiss said.
The law also states that minors can’t work in adult theaters and these theaters are required to check the ages of all employees.