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“Why Human Trafficking Is More Than Just A Moral Issue.”

January 2022 marked the 12th Annual Human Trafficking Awareness Month. A recognized memorial since 2010, the designation seeks to raise human trafficking awareness and educate the public about the crime’s heinous impact on millions of people across the world. Similar to challenges in other parts of the nation, human trafficking in Florida deprives victims of human rights as well as physical, emotional, and social well-being. Given the criminal enterprise nature of human trafficking, there is also an inherent economic cost to communities and the state of Florida when exploitation prevents victims from leading dignified, generative lives. What are the costs and implications of human trafficking in Florida? What is currently being done to combat this issue?

“Human trafficking is the second-largest illicit industry [in the world] and the world’s fastest-growing criminal enterprise … and tragically, the public is often unaware of its existence, allowing it to thrive and creep into our communities.” - FL. Lt. Gov. Jeannette Nuñez1

Florida Statute 787.06 subsection 2d defines human trafficking as “transporting, soliciting, recruiting, harboring, providing, enticing, maintaining, purchasing, patronizing, procuring, or obtaining another person for the purpose of exploitation of that person”.2 Nationally, there were more than 11,000 reported cases of human trafficking in 2019, with Florida accounting for about 900 of those cases.3 Florida currently is third in the nation for reported human trafficking cases. While these numbers seem high, this is likely a fraction of the true rate of human trafficking due to chronic underreporting across the state.

Human trafficking generally falls into two categories: sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Sex trafficking, the more common of the two, is the exploitation of people for sexual means. By definition, “People” can include anyone; however, the most common populations trafficked are teenage girls and members of the LGTBQ+ community, although there are also cases of young men trafficked for sex. Not every sex trafficking victim is a woman – a common misconception surrounding sex trafficking.4

Labor trafficking is less common than sex but remains a serious concern. Labor trafficking primarily deals with workers, particularly migrant workers pressed into servitude by fraudulent means. Industries known to interact with trafficked victims include agriculture, domestic work (e.g., nannies and cleaners), and construction.5 While not every person in those industries has been trafficked, the National Human Trafficking Hotline and the Polaris Project encourage vigilance in the fight to end human trafficking by researching how some products are made and from where they derive.6

Both categories of human trafficking are woefully underreported. By one estimate from Dr. Laurie Lawrence of FSU Panama City, about 10 percent of total cases are actually reported.7 Though both types are underreported, labor trafficking is even less frequently reported on, with labor trafficking reports in Florida accounting for about 14 percent of all reported cases in 2019.8

Human trafficking also carries heavy financial and economic impacts that are not often discussed. Based on large studies, human trafficking generates more than $150 billion in illegal profits each year across the globe.9 Although a comparable estimate does not currently exist for Florida specifically, the Value of a Statistical Life (VSL) can be used as a rough proxy for analyzing the economic implications of reducing risk and preventing fatalities associated with human trafficking. The VSL is often used in cost-benefit analyses to estimate the potential benefit derived from reducing the risk of harm due to some proposed regulation change (e.g., highway accidents, pollution, and consumer product safety).10

According to the US Department of Transportation and Vanderbilt University, the average VSL ranges between $9.6 million and $10 million.11 Applying this figure to the number of human trafficking victims nationwide, we arrive at a grand total of $110 billion for the monetary value of reducing risk to these lives.12 Florida alone accounts for $9 billion of this figure, and this is likely an underestimate of the true value of human trafficking. Although not presently explored in this blog, a more accurate and thorough way of calculating the economic costs of human trafficking to victims and the state of Florida would be to quantify the potential loss of lifetime earnings, local spending, and tax contributions to the state/localities when illicit activity occurs. Additionally, factoring in the public cost of anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts and providing healthcare services to victims would also be crucial to estimate.

Currently, the best way to combat human trafficking is to report it. There are various programs and initiatives across the state of Florida with this goal in mind. On January 12th, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez announced a new program called the 100 Percent Club to compile available data and resources on human trafficking in Florida13. It includes educating business owners on the key signs of human trafficking as well as providing a phone number for reporting. This program offers training for businesses so they can spot potential human trafficking victims and give the proper help they need. While this may increase the number of cases, this is not necessarily a bad thing. More reporting can help more people. The Osceola County Sheriff's Office argues that “Though a high number of cases isn’t always a good thing, it is apparent that the hotline and online reporting tools are having a positive impact on victims and survivors as far as coming forward with their stories.”

“Illegal trade is the lifeblood of criminal enterprise, and criminal enterprise—even if there is not a violent point at the start—ends up funding things like terrorism and other criminal activity, and that’s not hyperbole.” - Tony Carvajal, Executive Vice President at Florida TaxWatch

The reality is that human trafficking is just one of many forms of illicit trade and activity that has a detrimental impact on the state of Florida. From counterfeit merchandise and drug trafficking to cybercrime and sex trafficking, illegal trade can severely harm the health and economic well-being of vulnerable individuals, businesses, and governments alike. For this reason, collaboration and communication across industries and organizations both private and public must be achieved to effectively tackle these enduring problems. Another imperative will be information—understanding the true cost of illegal trade on Florida’s economy. Although human trafficking is the focus of this particular blog, much remains to be studied involving other areas of illegal activity.

Florida TaxWatch has proudly partnered with the United to Safeguard America from Illegal Trade (USA-IT) program in its fight against illegal trade that harms Americans and Floridians at large.16 By partnering with businesses, Florida TaxWatch hopes to supplement and support what government and law enforcement can achieve alone. Bridging information across silos will be vital for this endeavor, and Florida TaxWatch seeks to engage stakeholders to better understand the economic, fiscal, and societal cost of such illicit activities.

1 Comments made at the Florida TaxWatch hosted USA-IT roundtable discussion in December 2021.

2 2021 Florida Statutes – “Human Trafficking”

3 National Human Trafficking Hotline – “Florida,” 2019

4 Polaris Project – “Myth, Facts, and Statistics,” 2020

5 National Human Trafficking Hotline – “Top venues/industries for labor trafficking,” 2019

6 Osceola County Sheriff’s Office – “Human Trafficking Awareness,” January 2021

7 – “Statistics show human trafficking is on the rise in the Panhandle,” January 2022

8 National Human Trafficking Hotline – “Florida,” 2019

9 International Labor Organization (ILO), Profits and Poverty: The Economics of Forced Labor, May 2014.

10 Georgia Tech, “Giving ‘Value of a Statistical Life’ a Firmer Foundation, and a New Name,” Apr. 29, 2019. Note: The VSL is not a valuation of life, per se, but rather a valuation of reduction in risk and fatality. In this context, VSL is being used to quantify the potential economic implication of reducing the risk of human trafficking in the state of Florida.

11 Department of Transportation – “Revised Value of a Statistical Life Guidance,” August 2016

12 For ease of math, let’s assume that $10 million is the average value. $10 million VSL x 11,000 victims = $110 billion

13 10 Tampa Bay – “AG Moody announces '100 Percent Club' to fight human trafficking,” 14 Osceola County Sheriff’s Office – “Human Trafficking Awareness,” January 2021

15 Comments made at the Florida TaxWatch hosted USA-IT roundtable discussion in December 2021.

16 For more information, visit


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