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Florida authorities strengthen penalties for sex trafficking

Florida readers may be surprised to learn that, according to a 2011 study by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, Florida ranks third to only California and Texas in the number of sex trafficking violations. The study based its numbers on calls made to the center's anti-trafficking hotline.

Hoping for greater deterrence, Florida legislators recently strengthened the penalties for sex trafficking offenses. One notable change was the designation of convicted sex traffickers as registered sex offenders. That designation makes those offenders subject to the same monitoring requirements which apply to other sex crime offenders.

A federal crime, sex trafficking is the recruiting and harboring of people -- usually by force or fraud -- for sex. Federal law regards anyone under the age of 18 involved in such a scheme to be a victim of human trafficking. The average age of a sex trafficked victim is believed to be between 12-14 years old.

Since it is an underground industry, the number of sex trafficking offenders can be hard to quantify. One source estimates it may be a $32 billion industry, making it the third most profitable illegal industry -- behind the trafficking of drugs and weapons. An estimated 600,000 to 1 million children and women are trafficked across borders each year for sexual servitude.

Charges of sex trafficking are often combined with other offenses, such as sexual assault and online solicitation. Even when charged separately, however, human trafficking charges generally involve stiff penalties and jail time. However, some prosecutors believe that harsher penalties may not be the answer to deterring sex trafficking. Such critics assert that a different enforcement strategy may be required, as often only the victims of sex crimes are being caught, rather than the operators.

Given the current legislative climate, however, conviction for trafficking in the state of Florida will likely become an even more serious offense. For that reason, proper legal counsel is essential if one is accused of a sex trafficking crime.

Source: SunSentinel.com, "Florida is a 'hub' for human traffickers, attorney general says," Brett Clarkson, Sept. 23, 2012

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