MIAMI -- Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday he wants to earmark roughly $4.5 million in the state budget to fight human trafficking and help victims recover in a safe place after they're rescued.
The bulk of the money would create 30 rape crisis centers statewide and help improve law enforcement response to crimes of rape and sexual abuse. Another $1.5 million will also provide victims of sex trafficking with a safe place to rehabilitate instead of charging them with prostitution or holding them in juvenile detention facilities. The "safe houses" around the state will help victims heal in a therapeutic environment, officials said.
The Department of Children and Families has investigated more than 1,000 cases of alleged human trafficking involving children in Florida. Its child abuse hotline was one of the first hotlines in the country to handle reports alleging sex trafficking.
During a press conference in Miami with Scott on Wednesday, juvenile justice and child welfare officials also announced they are expanding a pilot program that helps identify sex trafficking victims. The program trains staff and gives them an assessment tool to identify victims as soon as they enter the system. Staff then calls the state child abuse hotline and an alert is entered into the juvenile justice data system to track the child and ensure they receive appropriate services. The program is in Broward, Miami-Dade and Orange Counties.
Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters said Florida is the first state in the nation to attempt to identify victims immediately upon arrest.
Florida lawmakers passed the Safe Harbor Act last year to ensure that child sex trafficking victims get help from child welfare professionals instead of being placed in juvenile delinquency.
Florida is particularly vulnerable spot for trafficking crimes because of its geography and vacation destination make it an easy transit points for predators to transport victims.