An estimated 293,000 children in the U.S. are currently at risk for commercial sexual exploitation.
By Mary Marx, president and CEO
Pace Center for Girls
Last year, the Florida Department of Children and Families collected more than 2,100 reports of human trafficking, and Florida consistently ranks in the top three states for the number of calls made to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
Human trafficking for labor and sex is one of the most disturbing forms of human rights abuse. Despite protection under the Federal Victims of Trafficking and Victims Protection Act of 2000, an estimated 293,000 children in the U.S. are currently at risk for commercial sexual exploitation.
Schools play an important role in promoting student health and well-being — an essential step in preventing, identifying and addressing trafficking of minors. For example, school-based programs focused on promoting healthy relationships and preventing adolescent dating violence provide the opportunity to discuss sexual and labor exploitation as another form of violence against adolescents.
Pace Center for Girls has a specific focus on preventing sex trafficking. One in five girls come to Pace having reported prior sexual abuse, and 96% have risk factors in three or more areas that make them vulnerable to sexual exploitation, including family instability, unmet health and mental health needs, juvenile justice or child welfare systems involvement, and histories of victimization.
Pace Center for Girls works towards long-term solutions by building resiliency through gender-responsive services and support (including physical health, mental health, legal, and education); social emotional learning; and developing coping skills in a safe and trusted environment. The Pace Volusia-Flagler Center is one piece of the larger Pace puzzle statewide.
Coordinated, community-based efforts to address a range of vulnerabilities across diverse groups may prevent human trafficking before it begins. Awareness alone is not sufficient to prevent human trafficking, and, to succeed, prevention strategies require a data-driven approach that guides collective action across local agencies and institutions, tailored to the specific vulnerabilities and needs of individuals and communities.
The recent passage of House Bill 851 establishes a direct support organization for trafficking survivors; increases training to better identify and aid victims of human trafficking for law enforcement, hotel workers and medical professionals; and develops a database of traffickers and those who solicit sex.
While there is still much to be done, Florida has taken a stand on curbing the profitability of the sexual exploitation of our states most vulnerable children.