Lawmakers move to educate kids on human trafficking

Lawmakers move to educate kids on human trafficking

(Fla.) A pair of bills introduced this week would require middle and high school health classes to include lessons on the dangers of human trafficking and how to spot the signs to identify victims or traffickers themselves.

Florida is currently the third leading state in the U.S. for human trafficking, according to the D.C.-based nonprofit Polaris Project, which runs the national trafficking reporting hotline.

National data collected by Polaris shows that cases of reported human trafficking continue to increase each year, with the most significant increase in 2016. More than 8,000 cases were reported to the hotlines last year, compared to nearly 6,000 in 2015. Polaris officials attribute much of the increase to greater awareness of human sex or labor trafficking.

Experts also note that while the numbers may be higher because of an increase in awareness, human trafficking has also become more lucrative for criminals who used to focus primarily on drug dealing or smuggling.

In Florida last year, 550 cases of human trafficking were reported. Of those, 401 involved sex trafficking with 464 identified as female and 169 under the age of 18, according to Polaris data. Since 2007, the organization has tracked more than 2,300 cases in the state.

The previous year, in 2015, a Florida Keys Children’s Center staffer was convicted on federal sex trafficking charges for convincing two teenage girls to run away from the shelter and become prostitutes in Miami-Dade County.

The bills seek to keep kids out of such a scenario by providing them the knowledge to pick up on red flags that would help to identify potential instances of human trafficking.

Under the bill, students would learn the warning signs of human trafficking, terms often used by traffickers, and behaviors that would indicate a trafficker's malicious intent toward a student. Children would also receive instruction on what websites are popular with traffickers and how a student may get help as a part of the health curriculum.

Some signs a person who is the victim of human trafficking may exhibit, for example, include:

  • Poor mental health or abnormal behavior, such as avoiding eye contact, or becoming unusually fearful or anxious after law enforcement is mentioned;
  • Poor physical health, including malnourishment, or showing signs of physical or sexual abuse, confinement or torture; and
  • A lack of personal possessions or control of one’s own money or identification.

Similar bills aimed at educating students and the public about human trafficking were introduced last month in Kentucky and Montana, and several were introduced last year in states including Virginia and California.

Both the House bill and its companion in the Senate have been moved to committees but have not yet been assigned a date for a hearing.

To report suspicious activity, call the Polaris Project’s hotline at (888)373-7888 or text 233-733.