Today, Governor Rick Scott held a press conference with victim advocacy organizations to highlight investments in the Florida Families First Budget to support victims of human trafficking. The recommended budget includes $1.5 million to provide trafficked youth with a safe home, $2.5 million to enhance the efforts of the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence to fight abuse and nearly half-a-million to support state and local law enforcement in the areas of high tech crime and Electronic Surveillance Support Teams. The Governor also highlighted the Department of Juvenile Justice's "Victim Identification Pilot Project," -- a program that's the first-of-its-kind in the nation that identifies trafficking victims and coordinates support services.
Governor Scott said, "As a father of two daughters and a grandfather, I take the health and safety of Florida's families seriously. We've made progress in making our communities safer and FDLE recently reported that Florida is at a 41 year crime low. The Department of Corrections also announced the state's recidivism rate has decreased from nearly 34 percent to nearly 27 percent over five years.
"While these figures demonstrate that we are improving in our efforts to protect Florida families, the reality is that even one violent crime is devastating. We are committed to making our communities even safer."
Human trafficking is a form of modern day slavery that affects more than 27 million people worldwide, including an estimated two million children who are trafficked for child labor and sexual exploitation. In the United States, the Polaris Project advocacy group estimates approximately 100,000 kids are currently trapped in the commercial sex trade of human trafficking.
To better protect children, Governor Scott signed the Safe Harbor Act and HB 7049 to help fight human trafficking by increasing the prosecution of criminals who exploit our children and also provide better services to the victims who are rescued from this heinous crime.
Last year, the Department of Juvenile Justice took steps to support children by creating the "Victim Identification Pilot Project" to identify victims of sex trafficking and coordinate with the Department of Children and Families to get children in a supportive environment where they feel safe. The program is the first-of-its-kind in the nation and was implemented in Broward County and later in Miami-Dade County. DJJ Secretary Walters has announced the pilot's further expansion to Orange County this year.
Governor Scott continued, "To support these kids, I'm proud to announce today that my Florida Families First Budget invests an additional $1.5 million to provide trafficked youth a safe home, so they can begin to heal from the trauma they experienced. Our budget also invests nearly half-a-million dollars on top of current funding to support state and local law enforcement in the areas of high tech crime and Electronic Surveillance Support Teams."
First Lady Ann Scott said, "As a mother and grandmother, a topic like human trafficking is heartbreaking. I am proud that so many good-hearted people are committing themselves to helping victims of this horrific crime. Last year I visited the Kristi House in Miami and was amazed at the wonderful work that they do with children who have been victims of abuse. We cannot let that heartbreak silence our voices, and I'm proud of my husband's commitment to helping the victims of trafficking."
Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters said, "Through his Florida Families First Budget, Governor Scott's clearly illustrated his commitment to ensuring Florida's at-risk youth and their families have every opportunity to succeed. I am truly honored to be part of Gov. Scott's team as Florida leads the nation in anti-human trafficking efforts and invests in the futures of Florida's families."
DCF Secretary David Wilkins said, "This budget will help improve the lives of Florida's families by increasing funding to services for those in need and providing better access to help for victims of sexual violence, human trafficking, homelessness and more. Through the Governor's recommendations, our agency will build on the transformation we've begun to focus on assisting Florida's most vulnerable children, adults and families."
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said, "I am so glad that Governor Scott, and Secretaries Wilkins and Walters will join me to keep public attention focused on the ugly and horrific crime that is Human Trafficking. Florida, being one of America's great trendsetting states, is now moving to building the infrastructure that recognizes the particular needs of its victims. The victims of Human Trafficking, so often our own children, will benefit from the things we do today and in the future."
"Sex trafficking of a child is the most severe form of child sexual abuse, where children seek love from the only family they know -- their pimps," said Trudy Novicki, Executive Director of Kristi House. "The proposed budget and the increased attention from Gov. Scott and his administration will help us prevent this crime and help the victims."
T. Willard Fair, President and CEO, Urban League of Greater Miami said, "Proactive and vigilant prevention programs are the key to keeping youth out of the juvenile justice system. Such programs save millions of taxpayer dollars and the lives of our troubled youth. Governor Scott and Secretary Walters recognize that in their approach to juvenile justice."
Stacy Gromatski, President and CEO, Florida Network of Youth and Family Services said, "If our goal is to prevent and divert troubled youth from entering the juvenile justice then Governor Scott and Secretary Walters are on the right track. Their priorities are consistent with the best practices for juvenile justice reform and are backed up by the latest research."
Mary Marx, President and CEO, PACE Center for Girls said, "On behalf of girls in Florida, I thank Governor Scott for his support of the PACE Center for Girls in Miami-Dade County in his Florida Families First budget. This investment in Florida's girls is an investment in Florida's future that will reap benefits for many generations to come."
Jennifer L. Dritt, Executive Director, Florida Council Against Sexual Violence said, "Governor Scott's budget recommendations include an additional $2.5 million to help the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence and the 30 certified rape crisis centers statewide provide improved services to sexual abuse victims. With these funds, we will be able to ensure victims' immediate access to trauma-informed recovery services and improve the ability of law enforcement to respond. Additionally, this funding will support increased awareness of the nature and extent of the problem of the terrible crime of sexual violence across Florida in order to prevent other women, children and men from becoming victims."
Deborah Polston, Statewide Advocate for Human Trafficking said, "Florida is in a battle to fight and eliminate human trafficking of our most vulnerable children. We need people across the state to know that this is happening in your own communities so that we can join together to combat this sexual exploitation of our kids. Thank you to Governor Scott, who has recognized the needs in this state and has pledged more funding to fight trafficking."
The Florida Families First Budget also invests an additional $2.5 million to enhance the efforts of the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence for 30 separate certified rape crisis centers statewide. This funding will help the council raise the level of awareness of rape and sexual abuse, improve law enforcement response to this heinous crime, and help ensure that victims have immediate access to high quality recovery services.
In Miami, my budget invests more than $618,000 to expand the PACE Center for Girls to Miami-Dade County, which will provide educational services designed with girls' specific needs in mind. With the investment, PACE will work with its private partners to grow services to young women in Miami community who need a strong support network.
Governor Scott's budget also invest more than $145,000 to improve the physical and mental health needs of youth to include psychiatric consultation and contract clinical specialists.