California Attorney General pledges to crack down on human trafficking

California Attorney General Kamala Harris and law enforcement officials pledged to crack down on human trafficking – from victim identification and rescue to survivor rehabilitation – at a news conference at University of Southern California on Friday.

Harris emphasized the importance of collaboration needed to combat human trafficking, the world’s fastest growing, second largest criminal industry at $32 billion per year with an estimated 27 million souls enslaved worldwide by means of forced labor or sexual exploitation. She explained that the state plans to help end modern-day slavery by establishing and strengthening partnerships between local and state government, law enforcement, tech firms and research teams working with technology’s role in human trafficking, and victim services.

Punishment and preventative measures must be placed against human trafficking, said Harris, as the number of victims identified by statewide task forces has increased threefold in the last year-and-a-half. According to the State of Human Trafficking in California 2012 Report released Friday, 72 percent of these victims are U.S.-born – a large number of whom fell victim to exploitation by human traffickers after running away from home as teenagers.

The human trafficking conference was held following the passing of the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act, (Prop. 35) – the highest passing initiative in the state’s history at 81.1 percent. The new legislation promotes collaboration efforts outlined by Harris with the aim of protecting victims and preventing trafficking in persons by increasing penalties for those convicted of human trafficking.

“Under the new initiative, we can better monitor what’s going on online, which puts out a ‘We are watching you’ feel,” said Daphne Phung, Executive Director of California Against Slavery, who co-drafted Prop. 35 with Chris Kelly, Chief Privacy Officer of Facebook. “This should certainly control and prevent sex traffickers from ever starting to prey on their victims, many of whom are children. In this way, the new law stops sex traffickers’ careers from even starting.”

State law enforcement officials are also behind Harris’s vow to crack down on human trafficking, as they are being trained to identify those exploited by human traffickers as what they truly are – victims, not criminals. Law enforcement and government officials have also teamed up with tech firms and research teams to use new technologies being created to help identify and track pimps and johns.

“The time has come to harness the power of technology to go after those using it to enslave others,” said Harris.

Research Director Mark Latonero and his team at the Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy are among those who are studying technology’s role in human trafficking. He and his team recently published a report on the role mobile devices play in human trafficking, and are developing technologies that disrupt the social dynamics of the trafficking trade and are creating technological platforms that leverage real-time data to provide actionable information for counter-trafficking efforts.

“For the first time, something that was once invisible is now visible,” said Latonero. “This visibility is directly placed into the hands of experts and professionals who are able to help human trafficking victims.”

Harris said we must generate hyper-public awareness, as enslaved people often appear free right before our eyes in restaurants, factories, hotels, agricultural and landscaping sites, nail salons, and construction zones. Women and girls might seem unrestricted at strip clubs but, in many cases, are actually sexually exploited by a pimp they unwillingly work for. To report human trafficking tips, call the national, toll-free hotline at 1-888-3737-888.

About the Author

Melissa Grace HoonMelissa Grace Hoon is the Managing Editor for the Abolish Slavery Coalition. She is a victim advocate and a human rights journalist with a Master’s degree in American studies where she focused on slavery, gendered violence and victimization. She is a freelance reporter for the Orange County Register and volunteers with the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force.

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