Florida Gov. Rick Scott today will sign two human-trafficking bills, allowing victims to ask courts to have human trafficking-related arrests and convictions expunged from their records, and to allow victims up to age 16 to submit an out-of-court statement rather than testify in open court, say the Tampa Bay Times. Experts attending a three-day human trafficking summit in Clearwater hosted by the International Association of Human Trafficking Investigators applauded the new laws, which they say will address the “masking charges” — drugs, truancy, shoplifting and, most often, prostitution — that victims accumulate at the hands of their exploiters and finally give them the confidence to reveal themselves to law enforcement.
“That’s the logic of this new law — we need to scratch below the surface to see if this offense was committed as a result of their being trafficked,” said Terry Coonan of Florida State University’s Center for the Advancement of Human Rights. Added the international association’s executive director, Jeremy Lewis, “I personally believe this bill will give victims a second shot at life — to get jobs, go to college, vote, become productive members of society.” Trafficking has become a hot topic in Tampa Bay, where law enforcement this month reported busts of two separate sex rings within days of each other. Authorities say pimps used Backpage.com to advertise the services of teen runaways or women they recruited from local strips clubs and forced into prostitution.