Lawmakers Step Up Fight Against Human Trafficking

May 6, 2019

Florida lawmakers late Friday passed legislation that would require police, hotel employees and massage-parlor workers to get training in how to recognize signs of human trafficking. 

The push to crack down on human trafficking received overwhelming support in the House and Senate. The bill (HB 851) now heads to Gov. Ron DeSantis. “A lot of people want to believe that this is a problem that happens in other countries and other places, but this is something that is happening, and it is very real, right here in our state,” said Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat who sponsored the bill in the Senate.

The bill would create a Prostitution Public Database, which would include criminal-history records of people convicted of soliciting prostitution in the state. As lawmakers considered the bill during the legislative session, it drew backlash from some women who identified themselves as “consensual sex workers.”

They criticized the bill for putting them in danger of being reported to police as trafficking victims by hotel workers. They also opposed the bill’s creation of the database, which they argued would shame consensual sex workers too. Book also pushed last year to train hotel employees on how to spot signs of human trafficking, but the proposal died because her bill would have allowed human trafficking victims to sue hotels that turned a blind eye to abuse.

This year, the bill eliminated the proposal for civil actions against hotels but added training for massage-parlor employees after the high-profile prostitution sting at a South Florida massage parlor that resulted in the arrest of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Book said the bill was especially crucial to pass this year because Miami will host the 2020 Super Bowl, which will draw tourists from across the country.

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