Orange County approves Florida's 1st house for human trafficking victims

By Bailey Myers, Reporter
Last Updated: Tuesday, November 01, 2016, 6:38 PM EDT

Orange County will be the first county in the state of Florida to provide housing for human trafficking victims when a newly approved rehabilitation house opens in April.

  • Orange County to fund 6-month pilot program for about $425,000
  • The yearly expense for the rehab house is about $850,000
  • Orange County officials said they will look for alternate funding sources

The Orange County Commission on Tuesday unanimously approved funding for a new human trafficking rehabilitation home, which is expected to open in April 2017.

The home would include 10 beds for 90-120 days to anyone flagged as a human trafficking victim in Orange County.

The annual expense is about $850,000. The County Commission approved a six-month pilot program, which will cost about $425,000.

"Is it then Orange County taxpayers that are going to provide services to who is not from this area but is passing through?" Orange County Commissioner Ted Edwards asking during Tuesday's meeting.

Organizers explained the program would be available to people in Orange County where the human trafficking took place, admitting their policy isn't fully established because the program has yet to be established.

The county is footing the bill to start the program, but all of the commissioners agreed to take a look into state funding to continuing — or expanding — the program.

"I think we all agree that it needs to be funded by the state, but it's very hard — even for the state — to get any idea of the magnitude of the challenge," Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said.

More than 172 human trafficking investigations and approximately 161 arrests in Orange County in 2015. Additionally, 332 youths in Orange County were rescued from human trafficking rings in the past three years.

Kateriina Rosenblatt, a human trafficking survivor who lives in Central Florida, said that she was being traded and sold for sex as young as 13 years old. She said she needed all of the support she could get.

"I just bought into the lie ... that this was normal and I gave up on myself," Rosenblatt said. "And I remember being 15 years old and being sold."

After more than four years of sexual abuse as a teenager, Rosenblatt said it was support from loved ones that got her out. She now holds her doctorate and counsels other human trafficking victims. She said creating a safe environment, like the newly approved human trafficking victim home, would be crucial to getting more men and woman out of their situations.

"These girls need to know that there is a difference," she said. "That there is another place for them."