The issue is ... human trafficking
Human trafficking is one of the most complex and heartbreaking issues to affect the nation and the world at large. Deeply seated in coercive control, unregulated forums and black market dealings – trafficking has become one of those issues that haunt law enforcement professionals to their very core.
One of the most chilling things to ever be said of the human trafficking market is that “the drug trade has its limits, once the drug is consumed it is gone. Human product can be used over and over again.”
WHAT IS CONSIDERED HUMAN TRAFFICKING
Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery where people profit from the control and exploitation of others. As defined under U.S. federal law, victims of human trafficking include children involved in the sex trade, adults aged 18 or over who are coerced or deceived into commercial sex acts, and anyone forced into different forms of “labor or services,” such as domestic workers held in a home, or farmworkers forced to work against their will. This article will primarily cover human sex trafficking.
WHAT ARE THE EXPERTS SAYING
The Department of Homeland Security estimates that the global human trafficking trade brings in an estimated $150 billion annually. Estimates show that there are up to 27 million modern day slaves world-wide. According to the Human Trafficking Resource Center, 50% of victims are children; 80% [of those are] women and girls. 70% of female victims are trafficked into the commercial sex trade industry. 244,000 American children and youth were estimated to be at risk of child sexual exploitation, including commercial sexual exploitation. The average age of entry into sex trafficking is 12-14.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS?
According to the U.S. Department of State, these are some key red flags that could alert you to a potential sex trafficking situation that should be reported:
- Living with employer
- Person is deferring to another person before giving information
- Person has physical injuries or branding such as name tattoos on face or chest, tattoos about money and sex, or pimp phrases
- Clothing is inappropriately sexual or inappropriate for weather
- Minor is unaccompanied at night or falters in explaining who they are with and what they are doing
- Identification documents are held by another
- Person works long or excessive hours or is always available “on demand”
- Overly sexual for age or situation
- Multiple phones or social media accounts
- Signs of unusual wealth without explanation—new jewelry, shoes, phones without any known form of income
- Person lives in a “massage” business or is not free to come and go
- Signs of physical abuse
- Submissive or fearful
Assuming you can speak with a potential victim privately and without jeopardizing the victim’s safety because the trafficker is watching, here are some sample questions to ask to follow up on the red flags you became alert to:
- Can you leave your job if you want to?
- Can you come and go as you please?
- Have you been hurt or threatened if you tried to leave?
- Has your family been threatened?
- Do you live with your employer?
- Where do you sleep and eat?
- Are you in debt to your employer?
- Do you have your passport/identification? Who has it?
HOW IS THIS HAPPENING?
While the age-old and terrifying story of someone being kidnapped and sold into trafficking does happen, there are a lot of gray area avenues where a person is coerced into being trafficked.
Sex traffickers target minors because of their vulnerability and innocence, as well as the market demand for young victims. Those at risk are not just high school students—studies show traffickers have been known to have victims as young as 12.
Traffickers target minor victims online, on the street, or at large public places such as sporting events or shopping malls, or through friends or recruitment by other youth at schools and after-school programs.
Trafficking victims, both minors and adults, are deceived by false promises of love, a good job, or a stable life and are lured or forced into situations where they are made to work under deplorable conditions with little or no pay.
WHY IS IT HARD TO FIGHT
Victims often don’t come forward to the police or organizations for help for a variety of reasons such as:
- Not recognizing that they are a victim of human trafficking
- Lack of knowledge of their rights
- Threats made to the victim and towards people they know or to their families
- Those who are trafficked may not want to report because it will put fellow workers at risk
- Some trafficking situations may be perceived as a “loving” relationship
Due to the global scale of the market, the approach becomes much more dynamic. For example, if there is someone who is being trafficked locally, they could be living with the threat of their family overseas being hurt if they cooperate with law enforcement. This provides a safety challenge locally and abroad.
Further, under current California law human trafficking is a felony for up to 20 years in prison. Yet, under Proposition 57 it is not considered a violent or serious crime, making it eligible for early release credits. Meaning, that while a jury and judge can agree to 20 years, early release credits can allow a human trafficker out within substantially less time – making punishment for this crime a slap on the wrist at best. This put trafficking victims at risk because their trafficker can be out at any time, further disincentivizing them to testify against their abusers.
Currently, Assemblyman Joe Patterson (ROCKLIN, Calif.) is working to make trafficking a minor a violent and serious crime under state law to help address this problem.
WHAT PLACER COUNTY IS DOING
The Placer County District Attorney’s Office has a special unit dedicated to the prosecution of human trafficking crimes. The unit works to address both supply and demand of human trafficking while prosecuting traffickers to the highest degree the law allows. This unit works with regional, state and federal partners to stay ahead of trafficking trends locally and across the country.
The DA’s office works closely with law enforcement and non-profit partners to stop trafficking at the source through education and enforcement. Victims or witnesses of human trafficking are always encouraged to contact their local law enforcement or the Victim Services Unit at 916-543-8000.
Stand Up Placer is a non-profit organization that has been serving Placer County for over 40 years. They are a state-designated Human Trafficking, Domestic Violence, and Rape Crisis Center serving Placer County.
Stand Up Placer offers a 24/7 crisis intervention by phone at 800-575-5352. They also have a safe house in an undisclosed location where victims can escape violence. Stand Up Placer offers therapy, support groups, case management, legal assistance, court accompaniment, on-scene emergency response, long-term housing, emergency food and clothing, and so much more.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The complexity of this issue makes it one of the darkest, most misunderstood issues in the criminal justice system. There are many systematic nuances to how to best tackle this problem which makes local community efforts and collaboration critically important.
It starts with every single person taking the time to understand and know the signs. It starts with policy makers coming to the table and recognizing that a one-size-fits all approach doesn’t work for every case. It starts with agencies continuing to open the lines of communication and reiterating that trafficked individuals will be treated with the care and concern they deserve.
The issue is human trafficking … and we have a long way to go as a state and as a society.