Report: Modern-day slavery alive and well in Florida



TALLAHASSEE, Florida (BNW) -- Modern-day slavery is alive and well in Florida, the head of a human rights center said Tuesday as it released a report on people forced to work as prostitutes, farmworkers and maids across the state.

Human traffickers bring thousands of people into the United States each year and Florida is believed to be one of the top three destinations, along with New York and Texas, according to the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights at Florida State University.

Although there have been several prosecutions of human trafficking in Florida, no one knows how many people in Florida are under the control of traffickers, said Terry Coonan, the center's executive director.

In south Florida, federal prosecutions have indicated hundreds of farmworkers were victims of human trafficking, and a forced prostitution ring identified as many as 40 young women and girls brought from Mexico. The center also cited a case of "domestic servitude" in southwest Florida.

But the problem is not limited to those areas or those industries, according to Robin Thompson, director of the research project.

"All you have to do is look where cheap labor is required and where there is a potential for labor exploitation, which pretty much can put you anywhere in our state," Thompson said.

The center organized a "working group" of advocates and law enforcement officials to study the issue. The project was funded by a federal grant under a 2000 law designed to increase protections for victims of human trafficking.

The center's report emphasized that not all victims of human trafficking are illegal immigrants. Many enter the United States legally but because of their poverty or inability to speak English are exploited by traffickers.

And some victims are Americans, Thompson said, pointing to the homeless, addicted and runaways as potential victims for traffickers.

"The greater the awareness, the more likely these cases will be reported and prosecuted," Coonan told reporters. "This is almost an invisible crime because the victims are kept out of the public eye. We need to crack this code of silence."


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