Human traffickers prey on girls as young as age 17.
The victims are often brought to Florida along its many miles of coastlines and across U.S. borders in other states. They may have acted as a mule to carry illegal drugs to the United States.
Some of these victims end up working at businesses in Volusia County, according to the counselors of the victims. Adult entertainers in strip clubs, and workers in massage parlors and nail salons, are among the people trafficked for sex or labor, they said.
Many are undocumented immigrants with language barriers, who were promised a better life in America. Instead, they are forced into dangerous working conditions by their supervisors.
“They’re telling them we brought you here, you have to pay us for your housing and food,” said Cynthya Hale, a DeLand resident who works in domestic violence counseling at FTT Helping Others and is the founder of an annual domestic violence march in Washington D.C.
Often the business takes up to 80% of the tips workers receive, including strippers and nail technicians, Ms. Hale said.
Volusia leaders have taken steps toward preventing this form of human exploitation. Human trafficking awareness signs must be posted by Aug. 16 at strip clubs and massage parlors, a new county ordinance requires. The County Council approved the campaign in April so residents who frequent these establishments can better spot victims.
The signs are not required in massage businesses owned by healthcare practitioners. The signs must contain the National Human Trafficking Hotline: (888) 373-7888. If a child is suspected to be a victim, residents can call the Florida Abuse Hotline: (800) 962-2873.
The new ordinance enables law enforcement and code enforcement throughout the county to issue $500 non-criminal citations to violators.
A county news release stated, “Perpetrators instill fear in their victims and look for people who are susceptible … including emotional vulnerability and economic hardship. Its victims include girls groomed and forced into sexual exploitation, men tricked into accepting risky job offers and trapped into forced labor on construction sites, farms or factories, and women recruited for domestic work only to be trapped and abused behind closed doors,” wrote Pat Kuehn, a county community information specialist.
Ms. Kuehn’s report noted Florida ranks third in the U.S. for human trafficking reports.
Sherrise Boyd, a former Daytona Beach mayoral candidate and consultant to non-profits serving victims of sex trafficking, said licensing should have been included in the Volusia ordinance.
Ms. Boyd lived in Atlanta where any workers in an establishment serving alcohol must be fingerprinted at a police station and photographed for a license, including security guards and bartenders in addition to the dancers. Adult entertainer licensing is a strategy that law enforcement can use to identify missing or exploited individuals on databases.
“I think people don’t understand that sex trafficking is happening in front of them,” said Ms. Boyd, who estimated at least a dozen people on average become victims in the county each week and especially during special events, such as Bike Week. Victims are brought from across the country during Daytona’s special events.
In addition, an Atlanta case involved the arrests of hotel front desk staff, who were paid by the sex traffickers so they would not report the crimes inside the guest’s rooms, she said. Signs should be posted in motels, too.
She hopes to open a safe haven for female victims in Volusia as her consulting services, which are a result of her eight years of serving in Atlanta women’s shelters, helps others start non-profits to address the issue. However, the outlook for sex workers is not always positive.
“A lot of girls don’t want to be in it and cannot come back out of it,” she said. Even worse, some end up committing suicide during their struggle change their circumstance.
Worker licensing may never be required in Volusia County. In March, Volusia County Council directed its legal staff to develop a licensing program. However, the attorneys found ordinances in other counties had been struck down by a federal judge in the U.S. Middle District Court. The judge ruled the licensing requirement was unconstitutional and a violation of the dancer’s First Amendment rights to freedom of expression. Volusia is within the same federal court district.
The County Council may also have its hands tied at the state level. According to county spokesman Kevin Captain, “Florida House Bill 735 went into effect on July 1, which preempts licensing of occupations from imposing licensing requirements of adult entertainers.”
For more information about the Volusia campaign, call Code Compliance at 386-736-5925 or visit volusia.org/humantrafficking.