MIAMI — In less than two months, Miami will become the first city in Florida to offer a temporary safe house for children who have been victims of sex trafficking.

Beginning in January, the new six-bed, 30-day treatment facility will be run by Miami-based Kristi House Child Advocacy Center at a location in Miami-Dade County that is not being disclosed in order to protect the victims, who are girls age 18 and younger, according to the Florida Department of Children and Families.
Earlier this month, state officials with the Florida Children and Youth Cabinet met at the University of Miami campus to discuss progress setting up the shelter and an ongoing push to implement the provisions of the Safe Harbor Act which was signed into law this summer and allows for the creation of the safe house.

“Miami’s going to be the leader,” David E. Wilkins, secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families, told the South Florida Times. State officials are looking to open three or four more safe houses in other parts of Florida in the near future, including Broward and Palm Beach counties, but their locations have not been determined as yet, said Wilkins, who also serves as chairman of the Florida Children and Youth Cabinet.

In addition to developing ways to treat child victims of sex-trafficking, the Safe Harbor Act also aims to toughen penalties against sex-traffickers. Children who fall victim to sex-trafficking, Wilkins said, lack love and security and are “manipulated and brainwashed” by perpetrators, who view them as property.

The new shelter will help these children “break the cycle of trauma” in order to help them rebuild their lives, said Mary Faraldo, community relations officer at Kristi House.

Many times, with these children, “it’s not just one trauma you’re working with,” Faraldo said. “You’re working with multiple traumas.” At a short-term facility, “you’re able to triage that trauma to create stability for these kids,” she said.

Staff and counselors at the safe house will help victims sever all ties to the perpetrator who abused or exploited them, before helping them transition to a long-term care facility or a foster home or to be reunited with their family, depending on each child’s individual case.

 His House Children’s Home in Miami Gardens also plans on opening a long-term safe house to assist sex-trafficking victims but a location for this safe house is still being scouted, state officials said at last week’s meeting.

In addition to discussing the creation of the safe houses, state officials also talked about collaboration efforts with law enforcement agencies in developing a coordinated response to helping children who are victims of sex-trafficking, as well as the progress the agencies are making in researching the best treatment options, screenings and assessments that can be offered to the children.

According to the Polaris Project, its National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline has received 558 Florida-based tips and crisis calls so far this year.

By comparison, in 2011, the organization received a total of 865 calls from Florida, which ranks third in its top 10 list of states that call to report incidents of sex-trafficking.

Statics are unavailable on the number of children in South Florida who are sex trafficking victims because the crime and its effects are just starting to be researched. Officials dealing with the crime say black children are among those affected.

Kristi House hopes to begin generating statistics that can be used in the treatment  of sex-trafficking victims through assessment tools they plan to implement, according to Faraldo.