New law raises minimum age for exotic dancers, creates survivors council

Law aims to fight human trafficking in Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Mayor Lenny Curry on Thursday signed a bill into law that’s aimed at cracking down on human and sex trafficking in Jacksonville.

Among other things, the law raises the minimum wage for exotic dancers from 18 to 21, requires dancers to obtain performer work identification cards and makes it mandatory for clubs to keep files on performers.

“Research shows these victims are more likely to be trafficked by someone within his or her community and that the average age of sex trafficking is 17,” Mayor Lenny Curry said at the bill signing. “These statistics are appalling.”

“This simply should not happy in our community,” he added.

Included in the bill is the formation of a leadership council made up of sex trafficking survivors. The mayor will appoint survivors to serve on the board, which will guide the city’s programs and services along with producing an annual progress report.

City Councilwoman LeAnna Cumber, who co-authored the bill, said survivors want to talk and have a voice in how the community handles this program.

“Not only do they want to talk about what happened to them, they also have a lot to add,” Cumber said. “And they have a lot to contribute on how we move forward.”

Kristin Keen, chief executive officer of the Jacksonville-based sex trafficking survivor advocacy group Rethreaded, said survivors endure a lot – even once they’re freed.

“Our women overcome insurmountable barriers to reclaim their lives after they get out,” Keen said.

According to a city spokesperson, there is no grandfather clause involved, so the age restriction change is immediate. She said performers will, however, have 90 days to obtain what’s called a performer work ID card, which will entail registering with the Sheriff’s Office and getting fingerprinted.

The city said strip clubs, hotels and motels are frequently used by sex traffickers to find and coerce victims.

The law imposes additional responsibility on strip clubs, which must pay higher license fees for police monitoring, keep files on their performers and provide sex trafficking education for workers.

The bill also calls for gas station and convenience store staff becoming trained in sex trafficking education. Public awareness signs would also have to posted inside all guest rooms in hotels and motels.

Not everyone was thrilled about the changes. Chad Schull, general manager of The Doll House, said he feels the city acted too quickly without consulting with the clubs. “Our input is needed,” Schull said.

“My fear is that it’s going to take a lot of these girls and send them to hotels, send them traveling out of town, it’s going to send them into other situations where they are not monitored by myself or my security staff or anybody else,” he said. “There could be repercussions that are not safe for them.”

For Keen, one of the most crucial parts of this bill is the formation of the Sex Trafficking Survivors Leadership Council. She says survivors will provide the best insight on how to fight the problem.

"They’re the experts in how it happened to them, what they needed, what services they did or didn’t get when they were in it, and their journey out of it," Keen said. "I think their perspective is invaluable."

Keen believes these are great steps, adding that more can be done.

"In the end, human trafficking is an issue of supply and demand," Keen said. "I know there’s already some talks about it, but I’m looking forward to seeing a demand reduction program in our city.”

The city did not have a tally of how many performers could be out of a job as a result of the change. Asked about resources for displaced workers, Cumber said job fairs are frequent in Jacksonville. To learn more about Rethreaded, click here.

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