Thursday, March 28, 2013

Protecting Our Children from Modern Slavery

Protecting Our Children from Modern Slavery
Letter to the editor by Commissioner Michael Keller - Brandon, Florida

Protecting Our Children from Modern Slavery

Shauna Newell was a typical 16-year old middle-class American girl, when she was kidnapped, drugged, gang-raped and savagely beaten for days in a suburban Florida neighborhood.

“My legs were being held down … I kept screaming, ‘Stop, please don?t do this. Leave me alone.’ But I was so weak, I couldn?t fight them off ... I blacked out a few times and I kept coming back to, and I was still being raped every time I woke up.”

Shauna is just one of the more than 3 million victims of human trafficking every year. Human trafficking has been legally defined as “modern slavery,” and for her captor this was business as usual; he had taken money from the men who raped her, and “sold” her on the Internet for $300,000. Fortunately, three days after her abduction, during transport to her new slave-master, she was discovered by a search party that her family had assembled.

Most victims of human trafficking are not so lucky. A recent local assessment determined that “in the Clearwater/Tampa Bay area, domestic minor sex trafficking victims are rarely identified and often misidentified.” Human trafficking is the nation’s third largest criminal industry, and Florida is one of the top three destinations for trafficking victims in the United States.

Last year, the Florida Legislature created the Statewide Human Trafficking Task Force, giving it the mission to examine and analyze the problem of human trafficking and to plan for a coordinated humane response for its victims.

This Task Force has determined that when these victims, in some cases after suffering years of torture, being raped as many as 35-40 times a night, are finally “encountered by the law enforcement and judicial systems, many of these exploited children are often erroneously dealt with as criminals.” Even though these are minors, children, held against their will in conditions of extreme brutality, they are often treated as common prostitutes by state and local agencies.

To help correct this injustice, the Task Force is recommending legislation that creates short-term “safe shelters” for the care of sexually exploited children. These shelters would be established as secure facilities where children could receive the intensive therapy and counseling necessary to help them cope with their horrific experiences.

Protecting our children is our most sacred duty. Passing safe shelter legislation is a necessary first step in both achieving this end, and in combating the plight of modern slavery. We hope the Florida Legislature will address this issue in the very near future.

Commissioner Michael Keller, Florida Commission on Human Relations.

The Florida Commission on Human Relations is the state agency charged with enforcing the Florida Civil Rights and Fair Housing Acts, and is a member of the Statewide Human Trafficking Task Force.

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