What is Human Trafficking?

On September 22, 2012, the United States celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. While the 13th Amendment outlawed slavery and involuntary servitude in this country in 1865, the promise of freedom still eludes thousands of women, men, and children forced into labor and prostitution in the US today. Forced labor and sex trafficking together are the world’s fastest growing criminal enterprise, and are flourishing in California.

Human trafficking is an estimated $32 billion-a-year global industry. It is the world’s second most profitable criminal enterprise, a status it shares with illegal arms trafficking, the two trailing only drug trafficking. As is the case with drug trafficking, California is one of the nation’s top destinations for trafficking in human beings, ranking among the nation’s top four destination states.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) marked the first major federal attempt to address human trafficking, both at home and abroad. Reauthorized in 2003, 2005, 2008, and 2013, TVPA addresses sex and labor trafficking through three broad strategic categories: Prevention, Protection, and Prosecution.[1]  Under Prevention, TVPA created the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in the State Departments, which reports on and ranks countries’ efforts to combat trafficking; it also enables the President to impose sanctions on countries that are not in compliance with or making significant efforts toward minimum standards to eliminate trafficking. It also created the Task Force to Combat and Monitor Trafficking in Persons which produces the annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report.  TVPA also requires the US government to undertake to prevent US citizens from using goods produced by slave labor. Protection strategies include: Creation of T Visas, which provide trafficking victims temporary residency and eligibility for permanent residency; funding for organizations providing rehabilitation and community reintegration to survivors through comprehensive case management. Granted survivors eligibility for the Federal Witness Protection Program and refugee assistance programs, and the temporary legal status of “Continued Presence,” through which federal law enforcement agents can request Health and Human Services certification for victims whose presence is necessary for investigations and prosecution.   Prosecution strategies include making human trafficking a federal crime with severe penalties, creation of new crimes (forced labor, sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion, sex trafficking of children), and creation of a new crime of fraud in foreign labor contracting.

California first criminalized human trafficking under California Penal Code 236.1 in 2005 (AB 22, Lieber). Under AB 22, the California Alliance to Combat Trafficking and Slavery Task Force reviewed California’s response to human trafficking and submitted its findings and recommendations to the Governor, Attorney General, and Legislature in Human Trafficking in California report (2007). Since that time, from mid-2010 to mid-2012, 1,277 victims have been identified, 2,552 investigations initiated, and 1,798 individuals arrested. Seventy-two percent (72%) of the human trafficking victims whose country of origin was identified were from US. This stands in stark contrast to the public perception that human trafficking victims are brought here from other countries.

In January 2012, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris created a Human Trafficking Work Group (HTWG) to examine the nature and scope of human trafficking in California and evaluate the State’s progress since 2007. The charge included identifying challenges and opportunities to protect and help victims and bring traffickers to justice. The Working Group includes more than 100 representatives of state, local and federal law enforcement, state government agencies, victim service providers, nonprofit groups, technology companies, and educational institutions.

There are a number of local efforts in the Bay Area. SAGE has been providing outreach and services to human trafficking victims since 2002, with funding from the US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement and the US Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and Office of Victims of Crime. Over the past decade, SAGE has had several partnerships with the Asian Anti-Trafficking Collaborative (AATC) with member agencies Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach (APILO), Asian Women’s Shelter, and Narika. Currently, the AATC is a member of SAGE’s outreach and public awareness project through the Cross Bay Collaborative to End Human Trafficking (along with the San Francisco Department of Public Health, Newcomers Health Program, Bay Area Women Against Rape, Sisters of the Holy Family, and Alameda County District Attorney); SAGE is a partner in the Anti-Trafficking Collaborative of the Bay Area (ACTBA), a direct-service partnership which includes lead agency APILO, Asian Women’s Shelter, Narika, and Mujeres Unidas y Activas. Other key Bay Area anti-trafficking efforts include MISSSEY, Alameda County Social Services, and West Coast Children’s Clinic.  
Despite this progress, challenges remain and will continue to emerge. Criminal organizations and street gangs are increasingly turning from drug trafficking and other crimes to trafficking in persons. Human trafficking is more profitable and has lower risk than drug trafficking. Humans can be moved more openly, with less risk than drugs and other contraband, and can be trafficked multiple times, providing a longer return on investment. Innovations in technology make it possible for traffickers to recruit victims and customers alike online, manage transactions from remote locations, and use other trafficking victims to make arrangements, thus shielding traffickers from sight and reducing risks of detection.

As law enforcement and community efforts shift to track trafficking on the internet and social media, traffickers will follow emerging technologies – not simply to escape detection, but because that is the direction in which society moves. Traffickers, no matter our opinion, are a part of our society – not just apart from it. We know, however, whatever the technology, there will always be activity on the ground.

What you can do.  Next Steps are easy to identify, more difficult to implement. They require funding, of course, but more importantly, sustained commitment from all segments of our communities. You can begin by amplifying the conversation. Send the SAGE Project’s link to friends and family. Like us on Facebook. Volunteer at SAGE, with one of our partners, or at a local neighborhood or community agency. Help them get the message out to others. Social media and mobile devices can not only help raise public awareness, but reach victims as well.

Contact us for training. SAGE conducts human trafficking training for members of the public, community and faith-based organizations, human service providers, law enforcement, and other government agencies. Learn what you can do to help identify victims and link them with law enforcement and service providers. Click on the Training and Technical Assistance link on the "What We Do” page and fill in the training request form.  We will contact you to make arrangements for you and your group.
If you encounter someone you feel may be a victim of sex or labor trafficking, contact the Polaris Project’s National Human Trafficking Resource Center, 1-888-373-788; for victims of labor exploitation, contact the Trafficking in Persons and Worker Exploitation Task force of the US Department of Justice, Complaint Line, 1-888-428-7581; or contact SAGE, 415.905.5050.

Whatever we do, we must do it together. Unless we are united, we will simply displace the problem from one neighborhood or community to another.

1    For a fuller discussion of TVPA www.PolarisProject.org/resources/resources-by-topic/anti-trafficking-eff...