DeSantis signs bills designed to ‘put human traffickers out of business’ in Florida

Survivor shares story of trauma to highlight need to combat human trafficking

Citing a 50% increase in human trafficking arrests nationwide last year, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed four human trafficking bills Tuesday at a news conference in South Florida.

DeSantis, who signed an immigration bill last week that included increased penalties for human smuggling, said 72% of human trafficking victims last year were not in the country legally.

“All in, human trafficking across this country is a $150 billion illegal enterprise, and I’m here to say that Florida, we want to use every resource at our disposal to put human traffickers out of business and into jail,” DeSantis said before signing SB 7064, SB 1690 and HB 1465 and SB 1210.

Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks before signing four bills designed to combat human trafficking during a news conference on Tuesday. (WJXT)

Most of the victims of human trafficking are women and children. One of those women shared her story Tuesday at the news conference before the governor signed the bills.

Savannah Parvu said her parents started trafficking her for sex at the age of 11 so they could get drugs in Central Florida. She shared details about her traumatic past to educate the public about the prevalence of sex trafficking.

“I began being sold on a regular basis where she would get her crack, and he would take and sell me to their people at his house, or other people’s houses,” Parvu said. “There was a time when I was 11 and I went with her, she was going to prostitute herself, and her drug dealer offered her a $10 piece of crack for me, instead of her, so she told him that was fine, and he went and sold me to other people and gave her a $10 piece of crack. After that, I was sold on a regular basis.”

Parvu’s story was in the spotlight, as DeSantis signed the series of bills that put additional safeguards in place for human trafficking victims and strengthens laws against offenders.

She said the bill will help keep others from experiencing the horrors she lived through.

Here’s the breakdown for SB 7064, which will take effect July 1:

  • Establishes civil action against traffickers and allows victims to recover damages from adult entertainment establishments
  • Allows human trafficking victims to receive restitution from the sale of their traffickers’ seized property
  • Increases penalty to a third-degree felony for adult entertainment establishments that exploit minors
  • Requires prostitution and lewdness offenders to attend an educational program that will direct them away from traffickers and toward supportive resources
  • Requires all law enforcement recruits to receive four hours of training in identifying and investigating human trafficking
  • Creates the Statewide Data Repository for Anonymous Human Trafficking Data at the University of South Florida

“Some people that get forced into this, this kind of becomes all they know. Sometimes it’s hard to get out, even if they ultimately want to,” DeSantis said. “When you’re in those situations and you’re treated like that for a long time, you may not have anywhere to go.”

Here’s the breakdown for SB 1690, which will take effect July 1:

  • Requires hotels to follow current human trafficking awareness laws and enhance protections for likeliest targets (young children)
  • Requires residential treatment centers for children and adolescents to place signs warning them of the dangers of human trafficking and how to report it
  • Requires safe houses and safe foster homes to have age-appropriate programming to help kids identify the signs and understand the dangers of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation
  • Requires the Statewide Council on Human Trafficking to conduct a study and make recommendations regarding the regulation of adult safe houses, which provide housing and care to adult survivors of human trafficking
  • Raises the standard of care at foster homes and safe houses for victims of human trafficking

“The wounds these victims bear are unique and traumatic,” DeSantis said. “Foster homes need to have appropriate tools in place to meet the moment.”

HB 1465, which takes effect Oct. 1, makes human traffickers eligible for mandatory minimum sentences when they possess or discharge a firearm during the course of their trafficking crime.

Gov. Ron DeSantis holds up four bills designed to combat human trafficking during a news conference on Tuesday. (WJXT)

“If you violently force victims into trafficking in this state, you are going to pay a very stiff penalty,” DeSantis said. “We are taking action to strengthen penalties against the dangerous criminals who prey on these victims.”

The governor also signed SB 1210, which provides that a petition for human trafficking victim expunction and all pleadings and documents related to the petition are confidential and exempt from public records requirements.

DeSantis was joined at the news conference by Attorney General Ashley Moody, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, House Speaker Paul Renner, and DCF Secretary Shevaun Harris.

Moody said her office has worked every year to strengthen or add laws to go after traffickers and better protect victims.

“If traffickers don’t have operational support to traffic their victims, that’s how we will stop traffickers,” Moody said.

Harris also said DCF knows it’s on the frontlines of combatting human trafficking.

“At DCF, we take seriously our role in protecting Floridians from human trafficking and ensuring victims receive the recovery services they need to not only survive but thrive,” Harris said. “Today, we send a strong and clear message to the people of Florida, thanks to the DeSantis administration, we will always fight for survivors of human trafficking and we will not allow this evil to permeate our communities. Our Department stands ready to enhance outreach, amplify messaging on reporting signs of trafficking, and doing all we can to ensure quality safe home availability for both children and adults.”

In a prepared statement, Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Davie, called the legislation “bipartisan work,” which addresses “the horrific realities of human trafficking, a crime which takes place hidden in plain sight in every single community across the state.”

About the Authors:

Tarik anchors the 4, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. weekday newscasts and reports with the I-TEAM.

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.