Gov. Rick Scott signed four anti-human trafficking bills into law Thursday at a Hialeah ceremony, surrounded by advocates who gathered to highlight similar legislation passed earlier this year.
Scott said he was proud of the state’s efforts to combat human trafficking.
“We’ve passed a variety of bills,” Scott said. “Part of it is to fund the safe houses and really build up the network to take care of these individuals -- that’s very important. We’re also going after the perpetrators and we’re making the penalties harsher. The other is we’re trying to create more awareness, so how you can get to where you can find services.”
Human trafficking is a major problem in South Florida, which is one of the largest hubs for human trafficking in the United States.
But Florida legislators have been active in combating the trend. Rep. Jeanette Nunez, R-Miami, was a key factor in pushing the legislation through.
Nunez said that many South Florida residents may not realize how widespread human trafficking is.
“I think a lot of people think this happens in third world countries,” Nunez said. “They don’t realize it happens right in their very backyards.”
For anti-human trafficking activists, the measures are a step in the right direction. Even so, they say there is more to be done.
Natalie Brown, director of community relations and development at the Kristi House, a local organization committed to ending child sex abuse, applauded the new legislation. But, she said organizations like the Kristi House will need more funding to help victims of human trafficking.
“Now that we’ve all recognized the problem, it’s a complex problem that involves many layers. So we’re hoping that the resources will follow now that we’ve put tougher teeth into enforcement and we’ve recognized that they need services,” Brown said.
Brown added that most victims of human trafficking are children. This point was addressed by Scott, too, who said that human trafficking could affect anyone.
“If you stop and think about it, we all have a family. I have daughters, and I have grandsons. One of my daughters is pregnant, and she’ll have either a boy or a girl,” Scott said. “Can you imagine this happening to someone in your family?”