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The Children’s Campaign & the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center call on Florida Gov. Rick Scott to sign HB 7141

Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center | May 27, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 27, 2014
Contact: Lynn Osgood, The Children’s Campaign, losgood@iamforkids.org, (850) 425-2600

Legislation Next Step in Effort to Help Child Victims of Sex Trafficking

(Tallahassee) – The Children’s Campaign and the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center call on Florida Gov. Rick Scott to sign HB 7141, further protecting and supporting domestic minor victims of sex trafficking. The new legislation builds on the good Safe Harbor Act, which went into effect last year.

Sponsors of the new legislation – Rep. Gayle Harrell, Chair of the House Healthy Families Subcommittee, and Sen. Eleanor Sobel, Chair of the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee – showed vision and wisdom when steering the bill through the legislative process. The governor can and should follow their lead to help children at risk of entrapment or already entrapped in the horrors of sex trafficking.

“What I find most encouraging about this legislation is it begins to define the components of high quality services to sex trafficking victims,” said Roy Miller, a longtime child advocate and president of The Children’s Campaign, which is based in Tallahassee. “At present, it’s a mixed bag with too little attention to research and best practices. With this legislation, we have a chance to truly shape the future.”

Scott is expected to sign the new legislation. He took a similar stance two years ago when he signed the original Safe Harbor Act into law – a step that dramatically shifted how sex trafficked children are treated in Florida. The landmark legislation regards the exploited girls and boys at the heart of the vicious trade as victims, not criminals.

With the change, though, services to victims have been difficult to access and haven’t made use of promising advances outside of Florida. Standards of care are lacking, and the issue of quality is elusive, depending on the community and local resources. Practitioners and court personnel need training, and services that do exist require cataloging with a view toward identifying gaps.

During this past legislative session, lawmakers worked to address the many issues presented by the good but challenging change in direction of serving sex trafficked minors. One debate especially was intense – a proposed provision to create a pilot program that would have detained victims against their will in order to “treat them” for up to 10 months.

The Children’s Campaign and Policy Center spearheaded the successful drive to rethink the locking up of victims.

“In the effort to rescue the children, it is sometimes forgotten that they are victims of the worst child abuse and rape,” said Dr. Lawanda Ravoira, a foremost expert on girls’ issues and president and chief executive of the Policy Center, headquartered in Jacksonville. “We must keep that fact front and center and have it guide all decision-making.”

Miller and Ravoira testified that locking up victims to keep them from running away was an unprecedented and ill-advised response to expected and natural behavior.

The wiser course, they told lawmakers, would be to provide survivor-based and trauma-informed treatment through a well-planned service network.

“Locking up rape victims sends the absolute wrong message and isn’t supported by any credible research,” said Ravoira. “Girls begin the long and arduous healing process when presented with quality services that build on their strengths.”

Leaders listened and responded. Among the bill’s highlights:
• Providing standards and guidelines for the residential care and treatment of trafficking victims, including certification of safe houses and safe foster homes.
• Emphasizing training and local decisions.
• Creating a statewide council on human trafficking to be chaired by the Attorney General – Pam Bondi – or a designee.

Miller said, “That last provision is especially important. The council under the Attorney General is vital to shaping the service plan that will meet the needs of these children.”

Florida lawmakers have laid out a broad plan. Gov. Scott can further that vision. By signing this bill, he will help ensure that some of our state’s most vulnerable victims have a safer path to the future.

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The Children’s Campaign, based in Tallahassee, is a statewide nonprofit advocacy and watchdog organization devoted to making children’s issues a legislative priority. For more information, visit www.iamforkids.org.

The Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center, a registered nonprofit organization, engages communities, organizations and individuals through quality research, community organizing, advocacy, training and model programming to advance the rights of girls and young women, especially those in the justice and child protection systems. For more information, visit www.seethegirl.org.

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