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Attorney General Harris Unveils Report Detailing Human Trafficking Trends in California and Law Enforcement Responses

Friday, November 16, 2012
Contact: (415) 703-5837

LOS ANGELES -- Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today released The State of Human Trafficking in California 2012. The report outlines the growing prevalence of the crime of human trafficking in the state, the increasing involvement of sophisticated transnational gangs in perpetrating the crime and the modern technologies that traffickers use to facilitate it.

Attorney General Harris released the report at the Human Trafficking Leadership Symposium, hosted by the University of Southern California in partnership with Humanity United. Leaders from law enforcement, victim service groups, non-government organizations and other groups convened to discuss the report and consider best practices in the fight against forced labor and sex trafficking. U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis and Mexico Attorney General Marisela Morales Ibáñez provided keynote remarks at the symposium.

“Human trafficking is a growing threat because criminal organizations have determined it is a low-risk, high-reward crime. We are here to change that calculus,” said Attorney General Kamala D. Harris. “We must counter the ruthlessness of human traffickers with our resolve, innovation and collaboration. Law enforcement must continue to get trained, gather data and work to shut down the human trafficking operations in our state.”

California law enforcement and service providers have committed to cracking down on this rapidly-evolving crime. The report finds that from mid-2010 to mid-2012, California’s nine regional anti-human trafficking task forces provided training to 25,591 law enforcement personnel, prosecutors, victim service providers and other first responders. During the same period, the task forces identified 1,277 victims, initiated 2,552 investigations, and arrested 1,798 individuals for the crime. California – the nation’s most populous and diverse state and the world’s ninth largest economy – is one of the nation’s top four destination states for trafficking human beings. Despite public perception, 72 percent of trafficked human beings in the state cite the United States as their country of origin, with the remainder coming from foreign countries.

The report also describes the evolving challenges California faces in addressing this crime, which has become a $32 billion-a-year global industry. Among the key findings in the report, organized criminal networks and street gangs are increasingly responsible for trafficking persons into and throughout the state. The prevailing wisdom among these criminals is that human trafficking is more profitable and has a lower risk of being detected than drug trafficking. In addition, new innovations in technology make it possible for traffickers to recruit victims and perpetrate their crimes online. However, technology is also key to successful enforcement as the Internet, social media and mobile devices provide new avenues for identifying perpetrators, reaching out to victims and raising public awareness about human trafficking.

Attorney General Harris earlier this year convened a Human Trafficking Work Group to update the first Human Trafficking in California report, released in 2007 by the California Alliance to Combat Trafficking and Slavery Task Force, as a result of the state’s first anti-trafficking law (AB 22, Lieber). Attorney General Harris was a co-sponsor of AB22 and participated in the 2007 Task Force as San Francisco’s District Attorney and the representative of the California District Attorney’s Association. The 2012 Work Group included more than 100 representatives of state, local and federal law enforcement, state government agencies, victim service providers, nonprofit groups, technology companies and educational institutions. The State of Human Trafficking in California 2012 reflects the Work Group discussions held during three day-long meetings in Sacramento, San Francisco and Los Angeles, as well as supplemental research and investigation by the California Department of Justice.

Releasing the report on the current state of human trafficking is one of the steps Attorney General Harris has taken to combat the crime. In October, Attorney General Harris and Mexico Attorney General Marisela Morales Ibáñez signed an accord to help expand prosecutions and secure convictions of criminals who engage in the trafficking of human beings. In June, Attorney General Harris partnered with the Polaris Project and Yahoo! to help get human trafficking victims access to resources via sponsored search results displayed to potential victims of the crime. In 2011, Attorney General Harris joined the National Association of Attorneys General in calling on Backpage.com to shut down its adult services section, which had been used to facilitate sex trafficking.

Attorney General Harris also sponsored two new anti-trafficking laws, Assembly Bill 2466, by Bob Blumenfield (D-San Fernando Valley), which ensures that criminal defendants involved in human trafficking will not dispose of assets that would otherwise be provided as restitution to victims; and Senate Bill 1133, by Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), which expands the list of assets that a human trafficker must forfeit and provides a formula for using those resources to help victims of human trafficking. Both laws will take effect on January 1, 2013.

Key Highlights from The State of Human Trafficking in California 2012 

  • From mid-2010 to mid-2012, California’s nine regional human trafficking task forces identified 1,277 victims, initiated 2,552 investigations, and arrested 1,798 individuals.
  • In the same two-year period, California’s task forces provided training to 25,591 law enforcement personnel, prosecutors, victim service providers, and other first responders. Several non-governmental organizations have also trained judicial officers, airport personnel, social service providers, pro bono attorneys, and retail businesses, among others. The variety of individuals who have been trained underscores the perva­siveness of human trafficking and the important role that governmental and non-govern­mental actors play in detecting trafficking and assisting victims.
  • 72 percent of human trafficking victims whose country of origin was identified by California’s task forces are American. The public perception is that human trafficking victims are from other countries, but data from California’s task forces indicate that the vast majority are Americans.
  • Labor trafficking is under-reported and under-investigated as compared to sex trafficking. 56 percent of victims who received services through California’s task forces were sex trafficking victims. Yet, data from other sources indicate that labor trafficking is 3.5 times as prevalent as sex trafficking worldwide.
  • Local and transnational gangs are increasingly trafficking in human beings be­cause it is a low-risk and high, renewable profit crime. It is critical for federal, state, and local law enforcement and labor regulators to collaborate across jurisdictions to disrupt and dismantle these increasingly sophisticated, organized criminal networks.
  • A vertical prosecution model run outside routine vice operations can help law enforcement better protect victims and improve prosecutions. Fostering expertise about human trafficking within a law enforcement agency and handling these cases outside routine vice operations can prevent erroneously viewing trafficking victims as perpetrators.
  • Early and frequent collaboration between law enforcement and victim service providers helps victims and prosecutors. Victims who receive immediate and compre­hensive assistance are more likely to help bring their traffickers to justice.
  • Traffickers are reaching more victims and customers by recruiting and advertising online. Traffickers use online advertising and Internet-enabled cell phones to access a larger client base and create a greater sense of anonymity. Law enforcement needs the training and tools to investigate trafficking online.
  • Technology is available to better identify, reach, and serve victims. Tools like search-term-triggered messages, website widgets, and text short codes enable groups to find victims online, connect them with services, and encourage the general public to report human trafficking.
  • Alert consumers need more tools to leverage their purchasing power to reduce the demand for trafficking. Public and private organizations are just beginning to create web-based and mobile tools to increase public awareness and educate consumers about how to help combat human trafficking.

Human trafficking involves the recruitment, smuggling, transporting, harboring, buying, or selling of a person for purposes of exploitation, prostitution, domestic servitude, sweatshop labor, migrant work, agricultural labor, peonage, bondage or involuntary servitude. While human trafficking often involves the smuggling of human beings across international borders, numerous Americans are trafficked around the United States ever year. Human trafficking strips people, especially women and children, of their freedom and violates our nation’s promise that every person in the United States is guaranteed basic human rights.

For more information on the trafficking of human beings and to view the report online, go to www.oag.ca.gov/human-trafficking.

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