October 24, 2016

South Florida a focus of Obama human-trafficking initiative

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@jamesmartinrose

Secretary of State John Kerry hosted a White House meeting Monday of a high-level task force set up by President Barack Obama in 2012 to combat forced labor and prostitution.

Federal law enforcement agencies have initiated more than 6,000 human-trafficking cases and secured at least 4,000 convictions since Obama took office in January 2009.

"While more work is required to tackle the root causes and consequences of human trafficking, the United States continues to be a leader in the global movement to end modern slavery," the White House said in a statement.

Part of the Obama initiative is focused on Miami and New York, two national trafficking hubs.

The U.S. Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Justice are collaborating to provide job and training services in those cities for victims of human trafficking.

More than 1,200 instances of human trafficking were reported in the Sunshine State through the Florida Abuse Line in fiscal year 2014-15.

South Florida is the third-most-active region for sex trafficking in the country, with minors often the victims, according to the Justice Department.

Before it was cancelled because of Hurricane Matthew, Attorney General Pam Bondi had scheduled the Florida Human Trafficking Summit for Oct. 10 in Orlando. Five-hundred law-enforcement officers, service providers, healthcare professionals, educators, legislators and community leaders had signed up to attend, along with trafficking victims.

Obama's task force gave a presidential anti-trafficking award to Students Opposing Slavery, a network of high school and college students who raise awareness about trafficking among youth. The University of Central Florida in Orlando has one of the most active chapters of the group.

"Leaders in our state are committed to making Florida a zero-tolerance state for human-trafficking," Bondi said.

In a recent case, the drug-overdose death of a 14-year-old girl in Orlando led police to break open a human-trafficking ring based there.

Jose Ignacio Santiago-Sotomayor, 22, and Avorice Jeno Holman, 19, were arrested and charged with first-degree murder, human trafficking of a child and procuring a minor for prostitution. Police said they and other members of the ring drugged girls in order to have sex with them.

Earlier this year, Gov. Rick Scott declared January the Human Trafficking Awareness Month and signed four bills into law that stiffened penalties for human traffickers, established protections for past victims, and promoted efforts to help people recognize warning signs.

"It is unfathomable that this evil occurs in our state, but by expanding services and passing important legislation this year, we are helping to save and heal the lives of our state's most vulnerable," Scott said.

In July, police busted a human-trafficking ring in Seminole County with more than 20 victims, arresting Christian Pena Fernandez and Rachel Gonzalez.

Detectives said that Pena Fernandez ran a sophisticated organization in which he recruited and harbored women to provide sex. He ran ads seeking women on backpage.com, they said.

The couple used motels and hotels across Central Florida in their operation, detectives said.

Photo credit: Getty Images

 

September 16, 2014

Miami-Dade commission asks Gov. Scott to "reform" troubled child welfare system

Innocents LostMiami-Dade County commissioners urged Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature Tuesday to reform the state’s troubled child protection system, invoking the gruesome death last month of a 4-year-old boy in a resolution they adopted unanimously.

The resolution calls on Scott, lawmakers and Department of Children & Families Secretary Mike Carroll to empanel a committee of “experts to investigate, review and recommend changes in law and policy to protect children throughout Florida from the type of preventable harm that took the life of Javon Dade, Jr." who was mauled to death by dogs outside his father’s Goulds home last month. One of the dogs was a pit bull terrier.

Though pit bulls and similar dogs have been banned in Miami-Dade since 1989, DCF investigators took no action in 2011 when the agency was told Javon was in “danger” because his father kept six dogs, two of them pit bulls, and had failed to train them, the Miami Herald reported. The boy’s father, also named Javon Dade, also had been accused of dealing cocaine out of his house, carrying a gun, and being violent towards Javon’s mother and visitors to their house.

Javon was among about 500 children who died of abuse or neglect in Florida over the past six years after the state had received abuse or neglect reports concerning a caregiver. Their stories are detailed in a Miami Herald series, Innocents Lost. Full story by Carol Marbin Miller here. 

 

 

September 14, 2014

Regulatory neglect: 140 investigations into abuse at home for disabled = zero discipline

Paige Lunsford tombstoneFor five days and five nights, Paige Elizabeth Lunsford — a severely disabled teen — retched “like a waterfall,” could not eat and thrashed about in an “educational center” staffed with teachers, nurses and a doctor.

Paige was sick, and getting sicker. But caregivers did not send her to a hospital. Instead, they bound her wrists, ankles, biceps and waist with restraints to keep her from flailing.

Paige, nonverbal due to autism, could not ask for help. And none came.

Blond, pigtailed Paige, the child of Margate residents, died at the Carlton Palms Educational Center in July 2013, baking with fever, 10 days after she was sent there. A victim of medical neglect, according to the Department of Children & Families, she now rests beneath a small grave marker etched with musical notes and linked hearts.

An autopsy determined that the 14-year-old succumbed to dehydration, the result of a severe but treatable infection.

Her death spawned the 140th DCF neglect or abuse probe involving the Lake County home since 2001 — there have been eight more reports since then — and yet, the facility has never paid a fine and never been disciplined. Story by Carol Marbin Miller here.


Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/09/13/4347015/bound-to-bed-a-girls-agonizng.html#storylink=cpy

August 19, 2014

Years before child was mauled by dogs, DCF was warned of dangerous home

Javon DadeThree years before Javon Dade Jr. was mauled to death by his father’s dogs, state child protection workers were warned about “the smell and danger” of the six “untrained dogs” living in an apartment with Javon’s family. Two of the dogs were pit bull terriers, which are banned in Miami-Dade County, a caller said.

“The dogs have not really been trained,” an unidentified caller told the Department of Children & Families’ child abuse hotline. “There is concern for the safe care of the children in the home.”

Javon’s father, also named Javon Dade, told investigators the animals did not belong to him. “Dad’s response has been, ‘I know, I know,’ and that he is trying to get the dogs out of the home,” a report said. But the dogs remained.

Last Wednesday, Miami-Dade police made a gruesome discovery: 4-year-old Javon’s badly mauled body lying in overgrown grass in the backyard of the family’s Goulds home. Javon had last been seen at 5 a.m., about four hours before his father noticed he was missing, and six hours before his body was found, a DCF report said.

Javon became the most recent child to die of abuse or neglect after state child protection workers had come in contact with their families. In a recent series, Innocents Lost, the Miami Herald documented the cases of 477 children — most of them younger than 5 — who died following some DCF activity, and the deaths have continued to mount. Story by Carol Marbin Miller here.


Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/08/18/4296581/dcf-was-warned-before-boys-fatal.html#storylink=cpy