Cumber introduces city bill to beef up sex trafficking regulations

Cumber introduces city bill to beef up sex trafficking regulations
CJ Goodman, FBI; Toshua Williams, Department of Homeland Security; City Council President Scott Wilson; At-Large Group 3 City Councilman Tommy Hazouri Jr.; District 5 City Councilwoman LeAnna Cumber; Jamie Rosseland, sex trafficking survivor; and Kirby Wedekind, protective security advisor, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Department of Homeland Security.

On the heels of Human Trafficking Awareness Month, District 5 Councilwoman LeAnna Cumber, who has been working on a bill to help prevent human and sex trafficking in Duval County, joined City Council President Scott Wilson and City Council Vice President Tommy Hazouri in hosting a lunch-and-learn session for their fellow council members on Feb. 3 at City Hall.

Introduced by Cumber and Hazouri and co-sponsored by City Council members Randy White and Joyce Morgan, the purpose of Ordinance 2020-74 is to put stricter regulations on certain businesses and occupations to help prevent human and sex trafficking and to establish a sex trafficking survivors leadership council. To assist in explaining the bill and give insight into the magnitude of the problem, Cumber invited representatives from Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO) to be part of a panel and answer questions from the council members.

Included in the discussion were C.J. Goodman, supervisory special agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Toshua Williams, group supervisor, Public Safety Group Department of Homeland Security, and Kirby Wedekind, protective security advisor at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Department of Homeland Security, and Jamie Rosseland, a sex trafficking survivor. Two unnamed members of JSO, who do undercover work for the city, also took part in the discussion via the phone.

“The impact of all sex crimes doesn’t end at the end of the crime,” said Cumber. “It’s something that stays with survivors long after it happens. It lingers. I know this from personal experience, it never goes away. Sex trafficking is particularly heinous. The worst thing we can do, particularly with sex trafficking, but also with all sex crimes, is to make it so that people don’t want to talk about it. We can’t continue to keep these crimes in the shadows. It is an uncomfortable conversation, and I understand that, but it’s more uncomfortable for the survivors,” she said. “We need to hear their stories and have an open dialogue. That’s the only way we can eradicate it.”

Goodman said that Florida is third behind California and Texas in human trafficking due to its location and highway system, and that the way to combat it is through federal, state and local partnerships. He also said most victims are United States citizens who were born in the U.S. and are brought across State lines, not illegal aliens.

“From the FBI’s perspective, it’s modern day slavery,” he said. “It is abusive and terrible. Some of the folks living this kind of life are beaten and miserable.” He added that, at the federal level, the FBI handles approximately 1,900 human trafficking cases a year and of the 44 human trafficking victims in Florida, 25 were under the age of 21.

“Many people think it happens in illegal industries, underground, or way out of the way, so nobody sees it, but that is just not true,” he said. “In the majority of cases, it happens in legal industries – restaurants, cleaning services, construction companies and factories. Most companies or establishments are legitimate.”

He also said it is a myth that most victims are targeted by strangers, such as depicted in the movie “Taken.”

“The majority have it happen by people they know,” he said. “A lot of victims are manipulated, coerced, and undergo fraud to get into the industry, then they are introduced to drugs and can’t find their way out. Most human traffickers control their victims by using threats and psychological tricks. Some survivors say they are too scared for the safety of their loved ones. Others tell us they were so manipulated that they had no idea they were being trafficked,” he continued, noting that in 3,000 cases the FBI has recovered over 3,600 children with the nine years being the age of the youngest actively trafficked victim.

One way the FBI is working to partner with parents to prevent human and sex trafficking is through its new program, “Be smart with your kid’s smartphone,” he said.

Meanwhile, Williams said that the Department of Homeland Security is using its “Blue Campaign,” to assist with labor and sex trafficking. The Blue Campaign is a national initiative to educate the public, law enforcement, and other industry partners so that they can recognize the indicators of human trafficking, she said, noting that while drug dealers sell their products only once to make money, human traffickers use the same victims to make money over and over.

The JSO representatives mentioned most victims they deal with are female and under the age of 21. They also said that many are incoming college students who get enticed into working in clubs – many as dancers – over the summer to make money for college. Once they start working in the clubs, they often find themselves unable to leave the business for various reasons, they said.

“A lot of them don’t make it into college,” a JSO representative said, adding that human and sex trafficking takes place in nearly every hotel in Duval County. “Every single hotel in Jacksonville has trafficking. It doesn’t matter if it’s a $29-a-night hotel or $500 a night. It’s in every single one across the board.”

To help combat the problem, Cumber’s bill will focus on three areas: hotels, clubs, and the establishment of a survivors’ leadership council.

The ordinance will require everyone working in hotels to get trained to recognize sex trafficking, and it will require that signage be posted in the inside of all restroom doors and guest rooms. “This way people can see this is an issue, but also if they need help, the information is there,” she said.

In order to bring the cost of JSO’s monitoring of the Jacksonville club scene more in line with reality, the ordinance will increase licensing fees and require everyone working in the club, including managers and owners, to have training to recognize sex trafficking. “This will all be verified through the city,” she said.

The bill also will require that dancers and other adult performers carry a work identification card, which will be obtained through JSO. “They will be fingerprinted and their fingerprints will be run through FDLE (Florida Department of Law Enforcement) and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), and they will have to go through sex trafficking training before they get this card,” Cumber said, adding that the ordinance will also raise the mandatory age of adult performers and dancers from 18 to 21.

The ordinance will also create a survivors’ leadership council, made up of seven survivors, which will be tasked with evaluating how well current programs are working while making policy suggestions moving forward. “We want to know what we can do, particularly on the issue of demand,” Cumber said. “How can the city address this, and how can we better work with our federal and state partners? We want them to report on what’s working and what we have challenges with. This isn’t an issue we should address one month out of the year. Having a report from the policy side is important.”

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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