Florida Bills Filed to Expand Protection for Human Trafficking Victims

by Bethany Blankley


Two bills have been filed in the Florida Legislature in advance of the upcoming session that would extend protections for human trafficking victims in court proceedings, including for minors or victims of certain crimes.

The bills filed by state Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Tampa, and state Rep. Taylor Yarkosky, R-Clermont, Senate Bill 1208 and House Bill 1037, respectively, have the support of Attorney General Ashley Moody.

The companion bills would prohibit depositions of individuals, including human trafficking victims, charged with certain crimes in certain circumstances. Human trafficking victims are often called as witnesses in cases brought against their alleged captors and traffickers.

The bill prohibits human trafficking victims from being deposed, as well as those who are under age 18, have intellectual disabilities or are witnesses of the alleged crime being prosecuted. Offenses where the prohibition is applied include human trafficking, domestic violence, aggravated cyberstalking, custody offenses, human smuggling, lewd or lascivious offenses, child abuse, child neglect and traveling to meet a minor, according to the bill language.

“Trafficking victims have already gone through so much and they shouldn’t have to needlessly relive those events during court proceedings,” Burgess said. “I’m proud to work with Attorney General Moody to protect survivors and I will continue to support her efforts to end human trafficking.”

Yarkosky echoed his sentiments, adding, the bill will protect victims “of this heinous crime in court proceedings, where they wouldn’t have to provide traumatic testimony without good cause.”

If enacted, the new law would require a written motion that a deposition is necessary to assist at trial to bypass its restrictions. A court would then be able to authorize the deposition if it’s proven that the evidence sought isn’t reasonably available by any other means and “the probative value of the testimony outweighs the potential harm to the person being deposed.”

The bill requires a court to also consider several factors when deciding whether to grant the deposition, including whether the victim or witness would suffer moderate psychological harm. It also requires a court to make specific written findings of fact for the basis of its ruling.

Attorney General Ashley Moody said she works “every day to stop human trafficking in our state, and this session I am advocating for legislation that will further protect victims, as well as help our law enforcement partners bring traffickers to justice.”

She said the legislation “will shield victims from unnecessarily reliving traumatic experiences, making it easier for them to come forward and help prosecutors secure convictions for their perpetrators.”

They made the announcement after Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd announced a multi-agency task force apprehended over 200 people in a human trafficking operation. Law enforcement officers from multiple agencies arrested more suspects during last month’s operation than they’d ever arrested before, Judd said, identifying 24 human trafficking victims, “the highest number of victims we’ve ever rescued during one of these investigations.”

Half of the victims, “14 of these females [were] illegally in this country,” Judd said.

Floridians are encouraged to learn how to identify and report human trafficking at YouCanStopHT.com.

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Bethany Blankley is a contributor to The Center Square. 




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