A new human trafficking ordinance aimed at increasing awareness and reducing victimization takes effect in Pinellas County Tuesday. Pinellas County Commission approved an ordinance expanding state law requiring informative signage earlier this year.
Florida passed a law in 2015 that required human trafficking signage including the human trafficking hotline and text line at all transportation hubs and buildings statewide. The idea was to target individuals who may know how to spot human trafficking and potential victims and provide useful information on how to report the crime.
Pinellas County is now expanding that requirement to any business in the county that offers specialty salon services, like nail salons, massage parlors or “bodywork” studios and strip clubs.
Companies who refuse to comply may face fines. Local law enforcement will partner with Pinellas County Consumer Protection, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation and the Florida Department of Health to ensure the signs have been properly displayed.
Signs are available for free on the county’s website in English and Spanish. They read, “if you or someone you know is being forced to engage in an activity and cannot leave – whether it is prostitution, housework, farm work, factory work, retail work, restaurant work or any other activity, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 or text INFO or HELP to 233-733 to access help and services. Victims of slavery and human trafficking are protected under United States and Florida Law.”
Since 2007, more than 24,000 cases of human trafficking have been reported nationwide. Florida is third in the nation for those cases.
“Human trafficking is a sick but profitable criminal enterprise that affects up to 300,000 children, and many young adults in the United States each year,” said Sen. Jack Latvala, one of the bill’s original sponsors, after Pinellas County approved its ordinance. “As counties in Florida pass this ordinance, more of these cases will be reported, and hopefully help put an end to this widespread practice of modern-day slavery.”
The posted hotline and text numbers are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week in more than 200 languages.
Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch said there’s always more that can be done to thwart a crime happening right under the noses of law enforcement. He said the Pinellas County Sheriff’s office has made human trafficking a top priority and the commission will be supportive when it comes to potential budget proposals.