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Florida legislative watchdog says human trafficking numbers were down in 2022

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(The Center Square) — The Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability released its 2022 report on the commercial sexual exploitation of children in Florida and it says that numbers were slightly lower than in 2021.

A total of 354 youths were verified as being victims of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation in Florida in 2022. This was slightly lower than in 2021, with 379 youth identified as victims of exploitation.

The OPPAGA report released on June 30 says that CSE youth were predominantly female, white, and between 14 and 17 years of age. Out of those cases, 49% had a prior history of neglect, abandonment and/or sexual abuse. The most common types of prior maltreatment were neglect at 48% and parental failure at 39%

The Florida Abuse Hotline received 3,408 calls alleging the commercial sexual exploitation of minors, an increase from 3,182 reports lodged in 2021. Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Duval, Broward and Orange Counties accounted for 41% of all reports.

Florida law enforcement often partners with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, along with other local agencies to address human trafficking crimes while the Florida Department of Children and Families takes the lead in managing victims at a state level.

According to OPPAGA’s review, staff at the Open Doors Outreach Network have reported high caseloads, a lack of survivor mentors, and the loss of a contracted provider. Challenges with services for high-need youth, provider selectiveness, and youth willingness to be placed were also reported by lead agency staff.

The report noted that agencies lack a uniform process for monitoring youth provider quality, instead opting for various monitoring measures such as staff meetings, exit interviews, and field visits. Agencies are also finding it difficult to find providers willing to serve victims of CSE.

While the Department of Children and Families has revised standards for safe houses and at-risk homes — the report found that the revision may result in less training for staff — also noted that there have been few changes made to improve the overall outcomes of CSE youth, who will often have many interactions with the Department of Juvenile Justice.

OPPAGA recommended that the Department of Children and Families improve its data collection and screening tools, work with lead agencies to establish a process for consistently monitoring the quality of safe houses, and work more closely with lead agencies to recruit providers.

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