HUMAN TRAFFICKING – A LOCAL PROBLEM
“It ought to concern every person, because it’s a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at the social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name – modern slavery.”
~President Barack Obama, September 25, 2012
According to a report issued by California Attorney General Kamala Harris in 2012, “Human trafficking is an estimated $32 billion-a-year global industry. After drug trafficking, human trafficking is the world’s second most profitable criminal enterprise, a status it shares with illegal arms trafficking. Like drug and arms trafficking, the United States is one of the top destination countries for trafficking in persons. California – a populace border state with a significant immigrant population and the world’s ninth largest economy – is one of the nation’s top four destination states for trafficking human beings.”
A common public perception is that human trafficking victims are from other countries, but a key finding from California’s report was that 72% of human trafficking victims are American.
Human trafficking is “the act of recruiting, harboring, transporting or obtaining a person through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of exploitation.” For juveniles, the law does not require force, fraud or coercion. Victims can be found in commercial sex, domestic service, landscaping, hotel or tourist industries, and restaurants, among other fields. Trafficking does not necessarily involve transportation although it may be used as a control mechanism to keep victims in unfamiliar places.
Now bring this home to Marin County. Because of our geographic location, Marin County acts as a pass-through for traffickers transporting victims to and from other locations. The most heavily impacted areas in the region are Alameda County and San Francisco. But here in Marin, police and social workers find victims who were driven in from Santa Rosa and other towns all around the bay. Most victims identified in the County have been found to be recruited by predators using social media.
The Marin’s Women’s Commission has been studying Human Trafficking during the past year. Noting that this crime includes labor and sex trafficking, females and males, the Commission chose to focus its studies on sex trafficking of young women and girls. Some of these girls have fallen prey to ‘the charming guy syndrome.’ This involves an older man who builds a fraudulent relationship with a vulnerable young woman – often one who has low self esteem, comes from an abusive home, or has been bullied; in other words, a needy girl. These young women are wined and dined and treated to special gifts and travel. They believe they are in love and that this older man loves them. Over time, the man may start selling her for sexual favors and then she is trapped in a cycle. She becomes isolated, afraid or humiliated. She does not have the means to go home or she may be threatened by violence if she leaves.
Thus, human trafficking doesn’t always involve the typical pimp or prostitute stereotype, though there have been episodes in Marin involving motels and massage parlors. In January 2015, the Marin IJ reported 5 human trafficking cases. One service agency noted 24 people seeking help last spring. Most cases, however, go unreported or unresolved because young, frightened victims, often threatened with harm by their traffickers, refuse to testify. They may even be coerced to solicit new victims from a shelter or juvenile hall.
Human trafficking disproportionately affects women and girls. Women’s Commissions across the country are working with their elected officials to address this outrage. According to the FBI, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego are among the nation’s top 13 High Intensity Child Prostitution areas. When and if a victim of human trafficking does successfully escape his or her situation, that victim is often suffering from mental and physical health problems stemming from the conditions of his or her enslavement.
Victims typically have few or no resources to house and support themselves, and they often end up homeless – vulnerable once again to traffickers. Service providers in California report wait lists for trafficking victim services. Finding appropriate shelters is a key issue, made more urgent by by the hovering presence of the trafficker(s). Housing and the development of an effective data collection system are two top priorities in Marin.
In 2014, Marin’s District Attorney and a trafficking survivor, worked together to develop a law enforcement protocol specific to human trafficking for all of our city police departments in Marin. A Marin County Human Trafficking Task Force was also launched. It is comprised of social services directors, law enforcement, citizen groups, former victims, the Marin Women’s Commission, and the Juvenile Justice Commission. These groups are dedicated to building comprehensive, trauma-informed services to help victims escape their traffickers and move toward healing and stability.
The Marin Women’s Commission is promoting awareness and education of human trafficking to address the danger that it posesto our community. Excellent sources for more information include http://www.polarisproject.org/ and http://www.state.gov/j/tip/
Submitted by the Human Trafficking Committee of the Marin Women’s Commission: Margaret Ballou, Wendy Baker, Mary Anne Hoover, Cecilia Zamora