Today four men were charges with running a foster child prostitution ring. The following remarks were by DCF South Florida Regional Director Esther Jacobo at a press conference earlier today.
Today’s actions by law enforcement and the leadership of State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle are a strong and welcomed response to the enormous challenge the Department and our community partners such as Our Kids of Miami-Dade and Monroe face as front-line protectors of children here in Miami-Dade.
We at the Department of Children and families battle a harsh reality every single day. Across the Country, almost 300,000 youth are at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation. They are being exploited in our own communities. This is true not just of foster children. Youth outside the child welfare system are also at risk.
The battle against those who prey on the most vulnerable children in our state is taking on a new strategy thanks to several things:
- Leadership and bold prosecutions of the real criminals, those people who would prey on our children and buy them for sex
- Actions such as the ones taken today by Miami-Dade Police and Mrs Fernandez Rundle
- On June 12 of this year, Governor Scott was in Miami and signed two significant bills into law:
House Bill 7049 which provides law enforcement with the ability to take these criminals off the street and away from our kids.
House Bill 99 which allows the Department to create safe harbors for these children, develop specialized treatments and give law enforcement the option help these children as true victims and focus on the real criminals.
- Abuse Hotline changes that allow us to have these children enter the dependency system instead of the delinquency system.
The most important take away for today is that these are not just DCF’s Kids … these are all of our kids. The community has to help us. These children may not be easy to spot and Law Enforcement and Child Welfare professionals are already developing and participating in training.
This is not enough. We must put a stop to generations of children becoming prey for unscrupulous individuals. Professional predators that not only know what children are most vulnerable to their influence, but also understand limitations imposed on agencies by law.
As a community we must make it harder for them. I am hopeful that in the coming months as we work to implement new protections provided by law for our children, you will show this same interest you are showing here today.
I invite all of you to really understand the challenge, report on it and help us find solutions. If you know of someone who may be a victim of any kind of neglect or abuse, please call the Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-962-2873.