This month, Florida becomes a pioneer in the battle against the complex and difficult issue of human trafficking. Last week Gov. Rick Scott signed House Bill 99, The Safe Harbor Act, which provides services to help victims who have been sexually exploited.
In addition, Scott also signed House Bill 7049, which gives prosecutors the ability to better fight this despicable crime by imposing tougher penalties.
The words “human trafficking” conjure up images of women being brought to this country illegally to be sexually exploited, and that is a very brutal reality.
However, there is another reality that we at the Florida Department of Children and Families battle every single day.
Across America, almost 300,000 youth are at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation. They are being trafficked in our own communities.
Children are being exploited for sex across this state, and in many cases we cannot even tell who they are. They are entrenched in a life of sexual exploitation and live in constant fear.
Tamara Vandermoon is barely recognizable in the photo she holds up; her face is swollen and bruised, her eyes nearly battered shut. She was 19 at the time. “My pimp had beaten me and stomped my face,” she says. “I was black and blue.”
The Minnesota woman has seen a lot in her relatively short life. Abandoned by her father and angry at her mother, she ran away when she was 12, the same age she turned her first trick trading sex for money and gifts.
“I just wanted to be accepted and loved. I was told how beautiful I was and if you do this I’ll get you this … and I’ll make you my girlfriend.” Before she knew it she was prostituting herself up to 50 times a night, the money going to her pimp or to feed the drug habit she developed, she says, to “numb the pain” of her life.
Her eyes fill with tears as she remembers: “I was just a baby. I was 12 and they preyed on me. What would a grown man want with a twelve-year-old child?!” Now 31, she is finally getting out after nearly two decades in the sex-trade.