March 8, 2012, Miami, FL – Kristi House, located in the Orlowitz-Lee Child Advocacy Center to provide services and system coordination for child victims of sexual abuse and sex trafficking, announced a major victory in the agency’s work toward changing the way commercially sexually exploited children are viewed and treated in Florida.
Both the Florida Senate and House of Representatives have passed the Safe Harbor Act which is now on its way to Governor Rick Scott for signing. The new measure will provide services and protection rather than punishment to underage children caught up in a world of pimps and johns.
“The commercial sexual exploitation of children and sexual human trafficking of children is an increasing pandemic in this country,” Kristi House Executive Director and author of the bill, Trudy Novicki, said. “The Florida Safe Harbor Act will allow first responders the option of treating commercially sexually exploited children as child-victims by placing them at private treatment centers, or Safe Harbors, if available, to treat these children and offer them hope for a future.”
The Florida Safe Harbor Legislation was sponsored by Representatives Jeanette Nuñez and Erik Fresen in the House and by Sen. Anitere Flores in the Senate.
Sen. Flores, who urged her fellow senate colleagues to join her in supporting the Safe Harbor Act, stated “this legislation has given each one of us the opportunity to actually do something meaningful. We look at all kinds of bills every day for all kinds of things, this bill will make all those we represent proud because we are not just talking about it, we’re actually doing something to save the lives of Florida’s children.” Her support was unanimous.
“I am privileged to work with Representative Fresen in bringing this great piece of legislation to the State of Florida,” Representative Nuñez said. “The passage of this bill will ensure we adequately address victims of child exploitation as just that, victims. This good bill will protect young boys and girls who are being lured and trafficked in the sex industry in our own back yard. It’s a real and pressing problem that is reaching epidemic and tragic proportions, and we are honored to be given the opportunity to work together on this.”
The Florida Safe Harbor Act passage was backed by Florida’s U.S. Senator Marco Rubio and locally by the Miami-Dade County Board of Commissioners led by Commissioners Pepe Diaz, Esteban Bovo and Audrey Edmonson.
“The Florida Legislature has passed a bill that will help end human trafficking, a form of modern-day slavery,” stated Attorney General Pam Bondi. “I greatly appreciate our state leaders taking a firm stance that human trafficking will not be permitted in Florida.”
“The Florida Department of Children and Families is proud to partner with Kristi House in the fight against human trafficking and sexual exploitation of Florida’s children,” said DCF Secretary David Wilkins. “This bill will help these vulnerable children get the help and services they need.”
In 2007, with funding support from World Childhood Foundation USA and the Women’s Fund of Miami-Dade, Kristi House began developing its model program for commercially sexually exploited children (CSEC) in Miami-Dade, bringing together all the social service, law enforcement and related agencies that come into contact with children living dangerous lives on the streets and under the control of traffickers. Few dedicated services, and no shelters, exist for these children, many of whom are running away from abusive situations at home or in foster care, and are as young as 11 and 12 years old.
Today, plans are underway in Miami to open an emergency shelter and drop-in center for commercially sexually exploited children. Under the direction of Program Manager Sandy Skelaney, Kristi House will be one of the first agencies in the state to implement Safe Harbor. The plan has received major support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as a Local Funding Partnerships grant program. It is matched by local funding supporters including Women’s Fund, Allegany Franciscan Ministries, Health Foundation of South Florida, The Ware Foundation, Paul Palank Memorial Foundation and List Family Foundation.
Kristi House Board Vice President Nelson Diaz, an attorney with Becker & Poliakoff and a lobbyist in Tallahassee, served as Kristi House’s pro bono advocate for the past three years of pushing for this legislation. “It has been a long and, at times, arduous road, but it has certainly been a victorious conclusion and the beginning of many, many success stories for the children we serve.”
Miami-Dade Commissioner Diaz, who has been a vocal advocate for the bill in Tallahassee and has pushed for more training on sex trafficking in Miami-Dade, said, “Over the past three years, local advocates have helped us to change perspectives about minors involved in sex trafficking. Through education, we’ve shown that these children are not offenders, but victims who need specialized help. Our state lawmakers fully understand the plight of these children today.”
Rep. Fresen said, “We could not have done this without the support of all our leadership. We have been privileged to have the support of Sen. Marco Rubio, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins, Senator Alexander and Senator Storms. Their guidance has been the success of this bill.”
Senator Marco Rubio said, “The Safe Harbor legislation is key to declaring war on those who prey on the most vulnerable. I congratulate the Legislature for taking this meaningful step to combat human trafficking in Florida. We need to continue pushing this cause at the federal, state and local level to crack down on this dehumanizing crime and help victims.”
“I congratulate Kristi House and the members of the Florida Legislature for their hard work during this session to pass meaningful legislation that will help victims of trafficking,” said Miami Dade County Commissioner Esteban Bovo, co-sponsor of local legislation to support the victims.
Kristi House offers training on recognizing victims of commercial sexual exploitation of children every month. For more information or to register for training, visit the Kristi House website at www.kristihouse.org/education/