January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. In Florida, human trafficking includes exploitation of the workforce by coercion of a physical or financial nature, including fraud and deceit. Florida’s Attorney General, Pam Bondi, has asked “all Floridians to engage in the fight to identify and protect potential victims.” Attorney General Bondi has posted educational materials regarding human exploitation on her website. The materials contain staggering statistics: 20 million people enslaved worldwide; a $32 billion dollar industry of forced labor and sexual exploitation. Florida has the third highest volume of calls to the National Human Trafficking hotline. Attorney General Bondi just announced a substantial increase in calls to the hotline based on her awareness campaign.
The Attorney General has specifically requested the assistance of Florida’s business community, including the hospitality industry, to assist combatting human trafficking and has provided suggested workplace policies and training materials for employers to help recognize and prevent human trafficking. She has also sponsored legislation, enacted in 2012, to allow for more aggressive enforcement of Florida’s anti-human trafficking laws. The new laws allow law enforcement to wiretap organizations or businesses suspected of engaging in human trafficking. The offense levels of most human trafficking activity was increased to first degree felonies, punishable by up to 30 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.00 per offense. Real and personal property used in human trafficking offenses is subject to forfeiture. The Statewide Grand Jury now has investigative authority, and the Office of Statewide Prosecution now has prosecution authority, over human trafficking cases.
The Statewide Council on Human Trafficking was created to support Florida’s efforts. The following trade associations have been recognized for their participation in the Attorney General’s initiative: Associated Industries of Florida; Florida Chamber Foundation; Florida Petroleum Council; Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association; Florida Retail Federation, and Florida Trucking Association.