Bringing Light to the Darkness of Human Trafficking (Trafficking in Persons)

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children operates a CyberTipline to help thwart online sexual exploitation of children. Ginny Beagan, Wochit

Strip clubs will be classified as adult theaters to ensure they'll be regulated by the state under a legislative crackdown aimed at preventing human trafficking.

Florida's departments of Law Enforcement, Legal Affairs and Business and Professional Regulation will be tasked with various requirements in a bill the Legislature passed Friday. It will become law July 1 if the governor doesn't veto it within 15 days.

Stuart Rep. Toby Overdorf co-sponsored House Bill 851 and added the adult-theater classification, in part to ensure strip club owners don't hire underage employees.

Strip clubs commonly hire underage workers who later get caught up in human trafficking rings, said Lynne Barletta, the founder of Catch the Wave of Hope, a nonprofit that focuses on eliminating human trafficking. She worked on the bill with Overdorf.

"Strip clubs have been a place where traffickers have hidden victims, and underage victims, for years," she said. "This (bill) is going to have to require them to give reports, that will be looked at, and they can be investigated for not supplying correct information and there will be a lot more accountability, so it really could help protect victims."

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Martin County Commissioner Ed Ciampi and others spoke to a crowd Monday night in Palm City about human trafficking in Florida. (Photo: Sara Marino)

The bill calls for educating people about the signs of human trafficking, particularly those who work in massage parlors, the hotel industry, and law enforcement. The bill also addresses reporting suspicious activity to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

Workers also will be trained on how traffickers typically work and act, Barletta said.

"Traffickers mirror terrorist methods," she said. "They use expert techniques on fooling children and getting them to step into traps, getting them to meet them, convincing them of a modeling job, or any number of dream offers to them that they think a child would respond to."

In the United States, Florida had the third-highest number of human trafficking cases in 2018, with 367, according to the hotline. California and Texas, respectively, had 760 cases and 455 cases.

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