Buchanan Leads Congressional Hearing on Human Trafficking
U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan led a bipartisan meeting Wednesday of Florida's congressional delegation to address the growing problem of human trafficking in the Sunshine State.
Florida ranks third in the nation behind California and Texas in the number of reported trafficking cases. The Suncoast region had the second-most human trafficking reports of any region in the state, according to Florida's Department of Children and Families.
"Human trafficking is a vile crime against children and women that flourishes in the dark shadows of society" said Buchanan, who co-chairs the 29-member Florida congressional delegation. "We need to bring it into the light, expose these atrocities and end what amounts to modern-day slavery."
The Florida delegation heard from state and national leaders on efforts to combat human trafficking, including Elizabeth Melendez Fisher Good, the founder of Selah Freedom, a national anti-trafficking group based in Sarasota. Buchanan has worked with Fisher Good on the trafficking issue for several years and invited her to testify at today's hearing, where she said, "1 out of 9 children are now approached on social media, it isn't stranger danger anymore. That's why education starting in kindergarten is vital."
One of the other witnesses at today's hearing was Doctor Heidi Schaeffer, a member of the Broward Human Trafficking Coalition. Dr. Schaeffer said recognizing the warning signs of trafficking is essential to combatting the problem. "My goal is to increase awareness of this issue to as many healthcare professionals as possible -- plus to the general public," Dr. Schaeffer said.
Roger DeHart, founder of the group First S.T.O.P. (Saving Teens And Others From Predators), told the members of congress "when we launched the war on drugs, everyone knew there was a war on drugs. If we took that same approach with human trafficking, we might have more of an impact."
Children account for more than half of the cases of human trafficking, a crime in which the victim is abducted or recruited for sexual exploitation. It can also involve illegal organ harvesting and forced labor.
Buchanan and Hastings recently introduced the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Prevention Training Act, which would provide federal grants to tackle the problem." The bill is endorsed by several human trafficking prevention groups, including Selah Way Foundation.
"Human trafficking victims suffer unspeakable acts of violence and exploitation," Buchanan continued. "This bill will address the problem in our home state and across the country. Congress needs to move swiftly and get this measure to the president's desk."
Buchanan was joined by other Florida members including: Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Charlie Crist, Neal Dunn, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Brian Mast, John Rutherford, Donna Shalala, Darren Soto, Ross Spano, Greg Steube, Michael Waltz and Debbie Wasserman Schultz. This was the first meeting of the Florida congressional delegation in 2020.