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How prevalent is human trafficking in Polk Co, Florida?
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Reposted from
The Lakeland Ledger
Nov. 10 2019
Gary White

Officials call Florida a hot spot for human trafficking, though reliable statistics are lacking. It’s also difficult to tell if law enforcement efforts have reduced trafficking.

LAKELAND — Law enforcement officials have long described Florida as a hub of human trafficking.

But it’s difficult to find reliable numbers to demonstrate how prevalent sex trafficking is in the state.

Figures from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement show there were 148 arrests statewide from 2014 to 2018 under three categories of the state’s human trafficking statute, an average of just under 30 per year.

Another source of statistics is the National Human Trafficking Hotline, operated by the Polaris Project, an anti-trafficking organization funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Polaris reported receiving 10,991 hotline calls from Florida since 2007, including 896 last year.

Those calls yielded 367 cases of human trafficking, Polaris said, with 261 of those involving sex trafficking. The overall total ranked Florida third, behind California and New York.

The Florida Legislature in 2014 created the Statewide Council on Human Trafficking under the authority of the Attorney General’s Office. The council’s 2018 annual report says there is “not a recognized methodology for accurately capturing human trafficking rates within the United States.”

Another source of statistics is the National Human Trafficking Hotline, operated by the Polaris Project, an anti-trafficking organization funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Polaris reported receiving 10,991 hotline calls from Florida since 2007, including 896 last year.

Those calls yielded 367 cases of human trafficking, Polaris said, with 261 of those involving sex trafficking. The overall total ranked Florida third, behind California and New York.

The Florida Legislature in 2014 created the Statewide Council on Human Trafficking under the authority of the Attorney General’s Office. The council’s 2018 annual report says there is “not a recognized methodology for accurately capturing human trafficking rates within the United States.”

The council reports figures based on calls to the Florida Abuse Hotline, operated by the Department of Children and Families. Since the hotline added a code for human trafficking in 2009, reports have increased each fiscal year except 2017-2018, the council said.

Hotline calls alleging human trafficking rose 148 percent from 2013-2014 to 2017-2018. DCF reported 2,133 such calls in the last fiscal year.

Anna Rodriguez, executive director of the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking in Clearwater, said hotline calls are not an accurate measure of trafficking activity. Based on her experience, she said many calls are not from trafficking victims but from advocates seeking information or brochures or a referral for a trainer or speaker.

Rodriguez said some people involved with rescue organizations exaggerate the prevalence of sex trafficking in Florida in pitches for financial support. She said that practice has hurt the credibility of the movement, especially after news organizations have debunked exaggerated claims.

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