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 必利勁
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.

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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

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Zonta Club of Melbourne Presents SOCK HOP

Zonta Club of Melbourne Presents SOCK HOP

Friday, September 27, 2019
7:00 PM – 10:00 PM (5:30-6:30pm-Dance Lessons $5/person)
Melbourne Auditorium
625 E. Hibiscus Blvd., Melbourne 32901
Come to dance or just enjoy 50’s & 60’s music with
Rock & Roll Revue (50’s attire optional)
Live Auction: Auctioneer Sheriff Wayne Ivey
Admission is $20 per person, $25 at the door
A table of eight (8) is available for $160 prior to event
You are welcome to bring your own beverages and snacks (BYOB)
A limited number of tickets are available, and we anticipate a sell out! It’s
important to purchase your tickets right away at
Online ticket purchase ends Friday, September 20th
Your support will benefit the Zonta Club of Melbourne’s community
commitment to local scholarship programs, service projects, and the犀利士5mg
against Human Trafficking and Violence Against Women.
100% of contributions go directly to the Zonta Club of Melbourne Inc. (CH13157) A copy of the official registration and financial information
may be obtained from the Division of Consumer Services by calling toll free 1-800-435-7352 within the state. Registration does not imply
endorsement, approval or recommendation by the State Registration. EIN#59-3736429

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Officials address human trafficking in Brevard

Officials address human trafficking in Brevard

Slavery is back in Brevard County, and experts say it’s happening more than most people think.

In known cases, it looks like this:

  • A 14-year-old runaway from Cocoa being sold for sex in dingy hotel rooms and warned not to tell anyone. Or else.
  • An Ethiopian woman who told Melbourne police she escaped from her job as a maid. She said the family that brought her to the U.S. did not pay her nor give her food as promised. She claimed she was abused.
  • Twenty-four teens and preteens, sandwiched into a van with half as many seatbelts. On each others’ laps. On the floor. Sent into strange communities without food or water to sell cheap goods so their bosses could pocket the profit. A tragedy in the making, officials called it.

“Sooner or later, if we don’t stop this we’re going to have a child dead on the streets,” said Sue Aboul-Hosn, a human trafficking and missing child specialist for the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Hundreds of people gathered at Devereux Florida’s Viera campus this week for an educational seminar, held this month because January has been designated Human Trafficking Awareness Month.

United States Rep. Bill Posey, R-Fla., headlined the symposium. Posey is a co-sponsor of the Strengthening the Child Welfare Response to Human Trafficking Act, which would direct the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to look at successful prevention programs and publish a report of “best practices” that agencies and private entities can use on local and regional levels.

“It’s going to be a real-time information exchange that should really be beneficial, helping people speak to each other and connecting the dots to fight this,” he said.

Traffickers exploit another person for labor or sexual purposes, often pocketing a big profit. Officials say human trafficking — what they call modern day slavery — is the second-most lucrative criminal enterprise, behind drug trafficking and ahead of weapons dealing, generating $34 billion revenue each year.

The victims are most often young men or women, but can be adults, said Dr. Anthony Davis, who leads the East Coast Human Trafficking Task Force in Brevard County. That can be children trying to buy sneakers, or people from third-world countries who end up as indentured servants. Traffickers often prey on people of low social and economic status; children who are runaways or lonely, for example. The victims can appear submissive and may suffer injuries or be malnourished.

Devereux offers the county’s only residential treatment program for youth who have been sexually exploited for commercial gain. Treatment coordinator Erin Wirsing hears stories of victims who are vulnerable, or who are tricked or threatened by people who appear to care for them. Eventually, the victims feel like they owe something.

She recalled a girl who came犀利士
to Devereux at 16 after being exploited. The girl had been in and out of group homes and met a man who offtered her food and a place to stay in exchange for sex.

“I heard her tell stories,” Wirsing said. “She went to the mall with this man, and he was trying to get other girls to do it, too. She got mad, but went home with him anyway. In her mind it was better to go with this guy and have her ‘freedom’ than go back to the group home.”

Human trafficking cases have been largely absent from the local justice system as law enforcement works to understand a crime where the victims sometimes do not know they’re being exploited. But police, service providers and community organizations are stepping forward to increase awareness and, they hope, crack down.

Davis said areas like Orlando, Tampa and Miami have taken a more proactive approach to cracking down on human trafficking. As a result, traffickers move into other areas, such as Brevard, where there is not as tight a watch.

In October, Palm Bay police collared two men in what officials say is the area’s first case of child “sales crews,” a form of labor trafficking. Children as young as 12 — participants in a group called Teens Against Drugs and Alcohol — were carted like cattle from Orlando, sent door-to-door peddling Dollar Store merchandise at one for $9 or two for $15. They had been in Brevard County before; and the leaders had skirted prosecution in Pinellas County years prior. They continued their enterprise despite labor law violations and fines from the state.

Officials hope the arrests were a wake-up call for the community.

“What happened in Palm Bay with 24 youth, this could happen in any area,” Davis said. “I think now it forces them to say if it can happen in Palm Bay, it can happen in Satellite Beach, Titusville, Cocoa Beach. We have to look at, not when does it come to Brevard, but where is it in Brevard.”

Palm Bay Police Officer Chris Jones has kept in touch with some of the teens.

While the criminal case against the two leaders has yet to unfold, Jones said the arrests were a step toward awareness.

“If I got anything out of this case, it’s Palm Bay citizens calling every day saying, yeah, these kids are out here again,” Jones said. He’s gotten calls from some of the kids who he found in the van four months ago.

“I know for a fact that 20 of the kids aren’t on the street doing this. I want these guys to go to prison, but saving 20 kids’ lives is enough for me.”

Contact Barchenger at 321-242-3669, or follow at

Human trafficking

For more information on human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 888-373-7888 or go to

If you suspect a child is a victim, call the Florida Abuse Hotline at 800-96-ABUSE or go to

Original Article


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Human trafficking sting nets Brevard County men

Human trafficking sting nets Brevard County men

An intensive, six-day-long prostitution sting focused on human trafficking — including those soliciting sex from minors — netted 104 arrests in Polk County, including an active duty U.S. Air Force officer from Brevard who coaches Little League and a 51-year-old Melbourne man with military ties.

Three other Brevard County men also were arrested.

The undercover sting was the latest and one of the largest for the county, which has carried out a number of similar arrests in past operations that take place at least twice a year.

The sting, which ended Sunday, targeted those who either advertised online for sex or who responded to internet-based advertisements set up by undercover investigators. The agents rented a home and set up online profiles.

Polk County sheriff’s officials said several of those arrested in Operation “March Sadness,” as the investigation was dubbed by authorities, were traveling prostitutes who journeyed state to state to trade sex for cash. Some were from Ohio, Texas and New York.

“We suspect that some of the people who arrived at our undercover location are victims of human trafficking,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said in a prepared statement.

Investigators said 32-year-old Dirk Watson, of Merritt Island, was charged with use of a computer to seduce a child, use of a two-way communication device, traveling to meet a minor and lewd molestation after investigators said he went to Polk County to meet with someone he thought was a 14-year-old girl.

Watson, investigators said, is an active-duty captain stationed at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and a coach for his son’s Little League baseball team.

His wife and two children were visiting Disney World and he was going to join them Sunday, according to a news release. Saturday night he attempted to rendezvous with an undercover agent acting as a child, reports show.

“It’s very disturbing,” said Carrie Horstman, a spokeswoman for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. “He went online, found the profile and initiated the conversation with someone he thought was a 14-year-old. He asked her age and asked if she was a virgin. Usually, it takes a day or two before they work up the confidence to do something like this, but he came out to meet with her two hours after initiating the contact, all while his family was visiting Disney,” she said.

A 51-year-old Melbourne man identified as John Hamilton was also taken into custody after Polk County authorities said he arrived at the undercover officer’s location to engage in sexual relations with agents he thought were two prostitutes.

Hamilton, investigators said, is a retired Air Force major. The other three Brevard County men arrested were Eyad Safar, Melbourne, solicitation of prostitution; Gregory Aramini, Rockledge, and Gary Harrison, Cocoa, who were both charged with deriving proceeds from prostitution, records show.

Agents identified 38 of those arrested as prostitutes; 51 as people soliciting prostitution.


Original Story from Florida Today

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