Day: December 27, 2019

How new human trafficking legislation will affect Brevard’s hotels and hospitality workers

How new human trafficking legislation will affect Brevard’s hotels and hospitality workers

Florida is one of the states most associated with human trafficking in the country, but Brevard County has not seen many arrests for that crime.

However, Jenny Pruett — Cocoa Beach resident and owner of the coffee shop Juice ‘N Java — believes the Space Coast has many characteristics marking it as a potential hotbed for human traffickers.

A tourist destination. The home of one of the world’s busiest cruise ports. A city with an increasing youth population stemming from the nation’s largest public university just an hour away: These are all the “perfect ingredients” that Pruett claims could lure in human trafficking.

So Pruett and other activists are praising legislation signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis this past summer, requiring training for those in the hospitality and medical industries on how to spot and report human trafficking. The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2021, affects employees of hotels and public lodging, doctors, licensed massage parlors and spas.

Businesses that don’t comply face fines of up to $2,000 a day.

Pruett, who last year founded Freedom Fighters, an organization that supports abolishing a trade where people are sold for sex, believes the bill marks a turning point. She hopes it will boost efforts to reduce human trafficking, sex trafficking, forced labor and debt bondage — the latter of which finds a person going into slavery as security against a loan.

On the other side, those directly impacted by the bill — particularly those working in the hotel, lodging and accommodation sectors — believe the new mandatory requirements puts more policing responsibility on businesses rather than law enforcement.

A state-mandated training program is being created by law enforcement agencies and Florida Abolitionist — an Orlando-based organization which offers training preventing and spotting human trafficking.

Training in Brevard is already happening at some hotels, through organizations including Zonta Club of Melbourne.

“Zonta Says No” stresses a zero-tolerance policy for all domestic violence and any form of human trafficking. Since 2016, organizershave visited multiple beachside hotels to provide training and prevention tips. All hotels and other affected industries across Florida must be participating in and complying with training described in the bill by its effective date.

Lindsey Phillips, director of external affairs at Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health Florida, recently met with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association in Brevard for a presentation on human trafficking awareness. Devereux offers counseling and recovery programs for victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation,

“Multiple people working at hotels or owners of vacation home rental properties explicitly gave examples of a time they saw signs or indicators that human trafficking was taking place, but simply did not know how to handle it,” Phillips said.

Florida lawmakers decided to do more to combat the dilemma after the state was consistently ranked third in the number of human trafficking cases reported, based on calls made to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

Since 2007, more than 5,000 victims of human trafficking have been identified in Florida, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. In 2018 alone,1,885 calls were made to the hotline from Florida, and 767 of those calls resulted in identified human trafficking cases.

Local law enforcement officials say the statewide epidemic has not affected Brevard as much when it comes to actual arrests.

“We haven’t had a significant amount of human trafficking cases, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an issue in other counties in Florida,” said Steve Bland, Palm Bay public information officer.

Palm Bay has had 10 reports of human trafficking in the last five years. Only two of those resulted in arrests, with charges dropped by the state attorney’s office and no further action taken in one case. One 2017 arrest in Cocoa was turned over to federal agents. In the same time frame, Rockledge, Cocoa Beach, Melbourne and Titusville had no arrests related to human trafficking.

Eighty-five hotels in Brevard, and the 26,000 employees involved in the county’s tourism industry, will be affected by the new law.

Tom Williamson is general manager of Ocean Partners,four hotels in Cocoa Beach.

While Williamson does not mind that the new law mandates human trafficking awareness training — and Ocean Partners already offers such training — he described the $2,000-per-day fine for hotels that do not comply as an “over the top, unfair penalty.”

“I like to think Brevard is aware of the risk of human trafficking and remains proactive,” said Williamson.

Others say there’s still a lack of education for many hotel staff members.

More: When human trafficking victims live right under our noses, how can we stop it? | Rangel

Anthony Davis raises awareness about the movement of people for the use of sex, forced labor, and servitude as the former board chair of Florida Abolitionist. He is the director of global operations for an expansion program, United Abolitionist, which will open its first field office in Brevard, possibly in Cocoa Beach, within the next few months.

“The greatest tool we have is awareness on how to prevent human trafficking,” said Davis.

Phillips, too, believes that in order to tackle this issue, the public needs to learn more about it. Dealing one-on-one with many young girls and children who have been involved in sex trafficking, Phillips says she has learned that it’s happening everywhere and no social class is immune.

“To say that human trafficking is not happening within a community is naiveté,” said Phillips.

Over the past year, Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health has served 96 individuals through their clinical programs for trafficking victims.

Phillips says the “strong collaborative effort” by Florida’s lawmakers, state agencies, law enforcement and therapeutic service providers in Florida is a big leap in the right direction.

“This new piece of legislation is one more step in a collective proactive response to combat human trafficking, but we still have a lot of work to do,” said Phillips.

Support local journalism: Subscribe to FLORIDA TODAY at

Spotting trouble, getting help

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 888-373-7888 or text INFO or HELP to 233-733.

Signs of human trafficking at a hotel could include:

A “do not disturb” sign on a door for multiple days
Large amounts of electronic equipment in the room
An older male checking in with a younger, anxious child. This is especially suspicious if the child has no identification card
Heavy flow of traffic going in and out of a hotel room
Anxious behavior of guests checking in
Loitering in lobby or other areas of hotel.
— Source: National Human Trafficking Resource Center

Posted by admin in news, 0 comments