Florida remains ranked third in the nation for human trafficking, but the top prosecutor for Miami-Dade County says her office is now a model for fighting the insidious crime.
“One in three runaways are recruited for commercial sex within 48 hours of leaving home. Those predators know exactly what they’re looking for. They know the signs better than anyone else,” said State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, speaking at Camillus House at her office’s annual symposium on human trafficking on Thursday.
When the conference was first held in 2011, Florida had just three human trafficking cases pending – and no labor trafficking cases in 2011, Fernandez Rundle said. Today her office has worked with more than 1,100 victims and filed 850 human trafficking criminally-related cases.
Over the weekend, a 17-year-old girl presumed missing for five years was found and rescued from an alleged human trafficker.
The state attorney’s Human Trafficking Task Force was established in 2012 after the first conference on the issue held at Camillus House. Florida trails only Texas and California for the most calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
“We had to start by dismantling core myths about what human trafficking was, we had to recognize that much of what we thought we knew about human trafficking came from Hollywood movies, and not actual research and investigations,” Fernandez Rundle said.
Her office discovered the immense profit that was being made from human trafficking and lobbied state and federal lawmakers to increase penalties and make human trafficking a non-bondable offense.
Miami-Dade opened the first human trafficking shelter in the state for victims and established a hotline where more than 2,200 calls have been received.
Law enforcement learned how girls were being trafficked for sporting events like the Super Bowl or the Miami Grand Prix, Fernandez Rundle said. A 50-billboard campaign with QR codes went up around the time of the 2022 Formula I race.
The latest reform protects victims of sex crimes who are 15 years or younger from having to testify under oath in a deposition without permission of the court, she said.
“That (deposition) is going to have dramatically and potentially irreversible harmful effects on this little person’s brain, potentially forever. And so that is such a huge protection that we now have,” Fernandez Rundle said.