Human Trafficking is Real in Contra Costa County
Last month the Board of Supervisors proclaimed January 2016 as Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month in Contra Costa County. It may be surprising to many that slavery prevention efforts are necessary here in our valley, but some may also recall the large-scale sex trafficking ring centered in San Ramon and Danville that was broken up by the District Attorney’s office and police last summer.
Human Trafficking is one of the world’s most profitable criminal enterprises as victims are exploited to provide labor or commercial sexual services through force, fraud or coercion at a huge profit to the traffickers. Trafficking in persons is a serious crime and a grave violation of our human rights. Every year, thousands of men, women and children fall into the hands of traffickers, in their own countries and abroad. Victims of trafficking can be any age, gender, ethnic or economic background. Trafficked victims can be found working in many different industries including: pornography, stripping, prostitution, massage parlors, domestic servitude, sweatshops, construction, agriculture or landscaping, nail salons, hotels, restaurants, panhandling, janitorial services and venues involving children such as foster care.
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center reported 711 human trafficking cases in California in 2015. Given the trafficking trends throughout the world, nation and state, we know that the East Bay region, and more specifically Contra Costa County, is not immune to the plight of trafficked and exploited persons. Indeed, there are numerous persons being trafficked and exploited, abused and sold, in our county each year. However, specific data on human trafficking is hard to come by and it is still highly under reported. Trafficking, by nature, is a hidden crime and victims seldom self-identify. As communication and transportation technologies become more advanced, trafficking exploitation is also becoming more expansive and covert. The clandestine nature surrounding human trafficking inhibits local efforts to quantify the problem. Policies addressing human trafficking are changing in response to the problem. Federal and State policymakers have recently passed legislation to provide better protections for victims, harsher penalties for traffickers, and improved data collection to support program development.
Contra Costa County has been at the forefront of efforts to address the devastating impacts of domestic violence, family violence, elder abuse, and sexual assault as the first Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence County in the State of California. In 2009 the County began addressing human trafficking as the next natural progression in violence prevention. The Zero Tolerance for Human Trafficking Coalition is a countywide, multi-agency partnership working to raise awareness, build capacity, improve policies, and increase access to coordinated services for victims of human trafficking.
In the last year Coalition partners held 38 trainings with 635 attendees. Coalition partners including Children and Family Services, Probation, law enforcement, and many local community based service providers are working to improve identification of victims, adapt intake and screening tools, and strengthen treatment options that do not re-traumatize survivors. Recently awarded federal funding totaling $700,000 will help strengthen a continuum of coordinated services in the coming year.
What can you do?
- LEARN! Learn the red flags that may indicate human trafficking and ask follow up questions so that you can help identify a potential trafficking victim. Visit www. traffickingresourcecenter.org.
- TAKE ACTION! Report suspicious incidents. Call 211 or the National Human Trafficking Hotline (1888-373-7888) or go online to www.traffickingresourcecenter.org/report-trafficking to report a tip (you can do so anonymously).
- BE A CONSCIENTIOUS CONSUMER. Buy fair trade, slave free products when possible. Discover your Slavery Footprint at www.slaveryfootprint.org, and check out the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. Encourage companies to take steps to investigate and eliminate slavery and human trafficking in their supply chains and to publish the information for consumer awareness.
- BECOME A PART OF THE SOLUTION. The Contra Costa County Zero Tolerance for Human Trafficking Coalition http://www.contracostazt.org/projects meets quarterly at the Concord Police Department to continue learning about human trafficking, share best practices and resources, collaborate and connect. E-mail Susan Woodhouse at [email protected] to join.
The effort to end human trafficking needs to include everyone; families as they are often the first ones to recognize a problem; law enforcement to identify victims and prosecute offenders; service providers to support victim recovery and provide vital resources; health and human services to provide mental, physical, financial, and housing assistance to victims; and the public to be the eyes and ears of their communities. With everyone working together, we can end Human Trafficking in Contra Costa County.
My office is here to serve the residents of Contra Costa County District 2, which includes San Ramon, Danville, Alamo, Walnut Creek, Saranap, Parkmead, Lafayette, Moraga, Canyon and Orinda. Please don't hesitate to contact us if we can provide you with additional information on this topic or on other County issues. I can be reached at [email protected] or 925-957-8860