Local

21 & up: Jacksonville’s stripper age restriction goes statewide

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A local push to combat human trafficking is going statewide.

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Florida ranks third in the nation for the most cases of human trafficking, but also ranks second in the nation for its efforts to combat the issue.

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The latest effort comes in the form of a new state law signed this week.

It makes it illegal for adult entertainment establishments like strip clubs, unlicensed massage parlors, erotic book stores and theaters to hire anyone under the age of 21.

“It is dangerous to allow teenagers to strip and be put in front of traffickers who only want to abuse and discard them,” said State Senator Clay Yarborough (R-Jacksonville), who sponsored the measure as a standalone bill before it was tagged onto a larger anti-human trafficking bill as an amendment late in the 2024 session, in a statement.

Under the new law, adult establishment owners could be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor for hiring an employee under the age of 21.

If that employee performs nude, the penalty is raised to a third-degree felony.

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“It will ensure that if businesses are not complying with these very modest, reasonable requirements, whether knowingly or unknowingly, that they will be held accountable,” said Governor Ron DeSantis.

Sandra Shin with Hope 4 Freedom, an anti-human trafficking organization in Jacksonville, explained stripping can be a slippery slope to becoming a victim of human trafficking, especially for younger women.

“The owners of these clubs provide homes for them, but then they have to work in the club to pay for those expenses,” said Shin.

The new law has roots right here in Jacksonville.

Four years ago, former Councilmember LeAnna Cumber led a push to raise the age to strip in Duval County to 21.

“Governments have a vested interest in protecting kids, and what we’re talking about are teenagers,” said Cumber.

Cumber’s bill passed, but was tied up in litigation for roughly three years after a local strip club sued.

It was ultimately upheld and finally took full effect in March of last year.

“It’s hard to find people who will, at least publicly, say that they’re okay with teenagers stripping in clubs. So, I’m just very excited that it’s going to be statewide,” said Cumber.

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Since the law took effect, there hasn’t been a notable change in local human trafficking arrests.

However, from 2019 to 2023 there were never more than four arrests in a single year according to JSO statistics.

The wider impact of the local legislation is still unclear.

Cumber said unfortunately, the Sex Trafficking Survivors Council established under her legislation in 2020 has not yet issued any reports analyzing the effectiveness of local anti-human trafficking policies.

“I’m hopeful that the Deegan administration will help fund that council and make sure that they have everything that they need,” said Cumber.

Still, Shin said she is optimistic the new state law will make an impact.

“It should have been done sooner, but I’m grateful that they’re doing it now. And yes, it is a step in the right direction,” said Shin.

The statewide law is slated to take effect starting July 1st.

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