Preying on someone to press them into prostitution would become a felony instead of a misdemeanor, according to a bill Democratic Rep. Kelly Skidmore filed Tuesday.
Anyone caught “restraining, isolating or confining” someone or threatening to do those things with the aim of exploiting them for human trafficking or prostitution would be charged with a felony the first time they are caught if the bill (HB 59) gets approved.
“The most heinous part of all of this is the person who, with intent, coerces or bullies or somehow intimidates someone into prostitution,” said Skidmore, who represents southwest Palm Beach County. “And because the penalties have been misdemeanors, it’s been just kind of the cost of doing business and the penalty does not fit the crime.”
Current anti-trafficking laws offer the violators the option of pretrial intervention or substance abuse treatment, but the bill would mean those who prey on others to exploit them are charged with a third-degree felony the first time they are caught and a second-degree felony for second or subsequent violations.
Skidmore said she expects Sen. Lori Berman, also a Democratic Palm Beach County lawmaker, to fill the same bill in the Senate in the coming days. The two proposed similar legislation last year (SB 760/HB 521). Berman’s bill made it through two committee hearings but then it was indefinitely postponed.
This year, however, the filing comes on the heels of an extensive series in the Sun Sentinel, “Innocence Sold.” Among the series’ revelations: the state’s hotels have racked up thousands of violations against a 2019 anti-trafficking code, but not one has been fined; the state’s foster care system has inadvertently served as a pipeline to child sex trafficking; and the current law blurs the distinction between trafficking survivor and those who coerced them into it.
Skidmore said Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg told the Palm Beach County delegation that prosecutors have a hard time charging the exploiters with charges that are consequential enough to warn them off the crime.
“It will help our State Attorney offices around the state to be able to prosecute more,” she said.
Statistics show Florida is third among the states in the number of reported cases. It ranks 7th per capita, based on numbers from the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
The legislation would also add providing “alcohol and other drugs” and withholding income to expand the state’s definition of the prohibited “coercion” into prostitution.FROM FLORIDA POLITICS