Bay County Joins State Efforts in Combating Human Trafficking - WMBB News 13 - The Panhandle's News Leader

Bay County Joins State Efforts in Combating Human Trafficking

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The Thirteenth Amendment made slavery illegal more than 100 years ago, but it still exists right here in our own backyard.

National statistics rank Florida as the third highest "human trafficking" destination in the Country.

Half of all trafficking victims are children.

They're often enslaved through forced labor and sexual exploitation, and now there is a new act to help ensure the safety of children who have been trafficked for sex.

"Those children are victims and rescuing them from prostitution is kind of how we look at it now," said Department of Children and Families's Courtney Stanford.

The "Safe Harbor Act" went in to effect at the start of 2013.

It now allows children who are found in prostitution to get help from professionals instead of being placed in juvenile delinquency.

"Many times with an arrest you go into the criminal justice system and then you're turned back out in to the street back where you were before," said Stanford.

The Department of Children and Families hopes to find the victims a safe place and treatment.

Thursday morning, they presented an abbreviated version of a new training that will later be used by investigators, law enforcement and other service providers.

Sherri Eckhardt is a "guardian ad litem" working on behalf of children and said the change is a step in the right direction.

"[We can help them] through counseling and time, and giving them a place to live, and hopefully we can retrain them to and just kind of love on them and take care of them and treat them like people and not perpetrators," said Eckhardt.

Thursday, the Bay County Commission joined the state in declaring January "Human Trafficking Awareness Month."

In December, Governor Rick Scott declared Florida a "zero-tolerance" state for human trafficking.