BY NICHOLAS ESSER – I believed, like many others, that human trafficking was something that only happened to foreigners. I believed that young women were stolen from the dark alleyways of Europe or the dusty avenues of Mexico. I believed that organized crime and drug cartels were the ones we could hold responsible for such a heinous act. I was wrong. Human trafficking is not something that lives far away, it is much closer then I would have liked to believe. In fact, it occurs to thirteen-year-old girls right in our own backyard.
In Miami Beach, authorities uncovered a thirteen-year-old girl who had been forced into prostitution and nude dancing at a local strip club. The tragic story of this young girl is confusing to some. Isn’t human trafficking moving someone out of their country and smuggling them into another for devious purposes? The laws against human trafficking are a little different than one would believe.
Florida Statute § 787.06 lays out what the legislature regards as human trafficking. Section (1)(b) specifically references the use of victims in prostitution and the sexual entertainment industry, but continues to include domestic servitude, restaurant, janitorial, and agricultural work. “Human trafficking” is defined in the statute as, “transporting, soliciting, recruiting, harboring, providing, enticing, maintaining, or obtaining another person for the purpose of exploitation of that person. The disjunctive word “or” provides that any of these acts could be considered trafficking. The statute also seeks to stop trafficking at its source, making the recruitment methods themselves illegal. This includes threats of physical harm, using physical force, restraining or isolating any person without lawful authority, using loans or credit to pledge undefined terms of servitude, and confiscating forms of identification like passports or licenses, among other methods. The statute makes using a victim for gain in “sexually explicit performances” — like the young woman in Miami — labor of any type, or transports the victim outside or within the state punishable by a felony of the first degree. Additionally for minors under the age of 15, like the young girl in Miami Beach, the prosecution must only prove that the defendant had a reasonable opportunity to observe that the victim was subject to human trafficking. Once this is proven, the defendant is punished by a life felony. Perhaps the saddest fact of them all is that any parent or legal guardian who is caught selling their dependent is also committing a felony of the first degree.
There are about 30,000 – 40,000 pre-teen and teen runaways in Florida and cruel individuals with monstrous designs are preying upon them. With all the punishments, one has to wonder why this kind of practice continues. As long as there is demand, there will be people seeking to create a supply. Perhaps a future step is to work on decreasing the demand side of trafficking, as groups in communities around the world are working on already. The State Attorney’s office has issued some guidelines on how to help spot traffickers on their website. To resolve this problem it will take a concerted effort on all of our parts.
For more on illicit trafficking and national security be sure to check out this year’s National Security & Armed Conflict Symposium on Friday, February 28, 2014 from 1:00 – 4:00 PM at the University of Miami campus. The symposium will focus on the nexus between national security, illicit trafficking, and the law in Miami and the Greater Americas. This topic is both innovative and highly relevant. Miami-Dade is the “Gateway to Latin America,” and huge amounts of persons and products travel through the county, both legally and illegally. The issue of illicit trafficking is an essential one that Miami must confront to become a nexus of global trade and commerce.
For more information visit the Symposium tab of the NSAC webpage.
To RSVP to the event link here: http://www.law.miami.edu/rsvp/nsac/