JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It's a crime that robs children of their innocence and one of the most under reported in Florida.
"This is a growing problem statewide we began to track human trafficking of children in 2009 at that time we saw 43 cases. In 2011 we saw 427 cases statewide," said John Harrell, Spokesperson for the Department of Children and Families.
In June of this year Governor Rick Scott signed the Florida Safe Harbor Act into law to put an end to the sexual exploitation of minors.
The law also amends the definition of sexual exploitation to include prostitution and the definition of a dependent child to include a minor who has been sexually exploited and has no parent or relative to provide supervision.
But more importantly it aims to protect children by providing them with treatment.
"What we're talking about is treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder also intense therapy and counseling because these kids have been through so much," said Harrell.
Law enforcement will also play a significant role, it now allows them to take a child they suspect is a victim to the Department of Children and Families.
"There is more awareness now that this is not a criminal issue to what these kids have been lured or forced to do, there had been that though in the past," said Harrell.
Before the Safe Harbor Act, law enforcement did not have that option and in some cases the minors were arrested.
Thanks to the new law, short-term safe houses have been set up in the Jacksonville area where police can take suspected victims of human trafficking.
DCF encourages you to call their abuse hotline at 1-800-962-2873 if you suspect a child is the victim of sexual exploitation.