TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It's hard to believe that slavery still exists today in the United States, but Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi says that's exactly what's happening right now with the problem of human trafficking.
Bondi helped lead a summit in Tallahassee on Monday, hoping to raise awareness of what she calls an ugly crime.
Bondi says South Florida is ground zero for human trafficking. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center reports Florida ranks third in the nation in the number of calls to its crisis hotline.
Bondi calls it modern-day slavery. She says more than two million people are enslaved in the country, forced to work in the sex trade, massage parlors, nail salons, farm labor and domestic servitude.
The victims are often brought from foreign countries with a promise of a better life in America, but then they're forced into slave labor.
Bondi vows Florida will become a zero-tolerance state for human trafficking.
"It's modern-day slavery and domestic servitude and it's so ugly that people don't want to believe it's going on in our state. It is going on in our state. It's a $32 billion business worldwide. It's very serious, it's very lethal and we're going to do everything we can to all join forces, state, local and federal authorities, just like we did on the drug issue."
Florida has strengthened its laws against human trafficking.
New laws now increase penalties, crack down on massage parlors, make it easier for statewide prosecutors to pursue cases and allow authorities to confiscate criminals' property to help pay for safe houses for victims.
Bondi says that forfeiture provision is crucial.
"Now we have safe houses, and that was very important, where these young women, children, girls and boys, can go and have a safe place because a lot of them are from other countries. But a lot of victims are from within our own country who are runaways and who ended up in Florida, so that's very important that they have a place to go that's safe."
It's estimated 300,000 youth across the country are at risk of getting swept up by the sex trafficking industry. Bondi says Florida has the tools now to combat the problem.
"We will continue to work to free the victims of human trafficking any way we can and put these guys out of business and behind bars for as long as possible because they are some of the worst of the worst criminals."
First Coast News