Human trafficking is a $32 billion global industry that remains prevalent in California and is one of the most difficult crimes to monitor.
While it may be a national problem, San Francisco is one of the major hubs for human trafficking due to its geographic location, population and commerce, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's effort to Combat Crimes Against Children report in 2009.
Maggie Wynne, director of Anti-Trafficking in Persons Divisions at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said men, women and children are affected by human trafficking and considers it a hidden crime.
California’s Attorney General’s 2012 report on the state of human trafficking estimates a total of 20.9 million victims worldwide at any time.
The report states that of those 20.9 million identified, 14.2 million were subjected to labor exploitation, 4.5 million were subjected to sexual exploitation and 2.2 million were subjected to state-imposed forced labor.
The report also states that women and girls make up 55 percent of forced labor victims and 98 percent of sex trafficking victims.
The U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for:
- Sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, of in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age; or
- Labor or services, thought the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery.”
Human trafficking is different than smuggling
because smuggling refers to the transport of foreign nationals into the U.S. unlawfully without necessarily the intent of trafficking them, according U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
According to political organization Californians Against Sexual Exploitation, the average age of children forced into exploitation is 13.
Currently, California’s anti-trafficking task force has initiated 2,552 investigations, discovered 1,277 victims and arrested 1,798 individuals.
Between 2010 and 2012, 72 percent of victims identified by the U.S.’ task force were born in the U.S., followed by 16 percent of victims identified were born in foreign countries.
According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, out of the total amount of trafficking reports made to this organization, 26 calls were labor-related trafficking and 162 reported sex-related trafficking in California
The data only substantiates the number of cases that have been reported and are not entirely reflective of actual number of victims, according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.
Fifty-five reports of human trafficking were made from San Jose and seven reports involved incidents of human trafficking in San Jose to trafficking, according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center 2012 California State Report. However, the number of calls received doesn't guarantee arrest, conviction or victims being rescued, stated the report.
Forced labor, in particular, is part of a large global network.
It is considered under-reported and under-investigated according to a news statement by California’s attorney general.
Human trafficking is often linked to other crimes, such as: pimping, pandering, procuring a minor for lewd of lascivious acts, abducting a minor for prostitution, use of minor for an obscene matter and loitering with the intent to commit prostitution.
The number of prosecuted cases decreased because they may be prosecuted under different sections of the penal code. Under California Penal Code§ 236.1 — which convicts human trafficking alone — 113 arrests and 21 convictions were made in 2012.
The Cycle of Vulnerability
“Typically (victims) are not treated like humans, they’re treated as slaves,” FBI spokesperson Jason Lee said.
Wynne said victims who are most vulnerable to human trafficking are those who are struggling economically and live in areas of violence.
“Trafficking doesn't discriminate between foreign and domestic,” Wynne said.
Noam Perry, a lecturer at SJSU, said the youth and people who don’t have consistent caregivers, such as foster children, are more vulnerable to human trafficking.
Perry said human trafficking has a trickle down effect and perpetrators are partially misunderstood.
“Basically, it’s a way to make money in much of the same way they become drug dealers or (participate in) any other illegal activities to make a profit,” Perry said. “That explains their motivations and a lot of their practices. (They have) the same motivations as corporations and legal employees have.”
According to the Attorney General’s 2012 report, traffickers are both men and women and may know their victims as family members, partners and acquaintances and strangers.
Similarly, victims are looking to support themselves and their families economically, said Perry.
“(Human Trafficking) starts with someone taking an offer that they didn't want to take, but they didn't have a choice,” Perry said.
A corporation can also be perpetrators of human trafficking as well, according to Perry. When immigrants file for H-1B visas — which would permit someone a temporary visa to work in the U.S. — employers can take advantage of that said Perry.
The immigrant employees is tied to that one job and they can potentially face deportation if they chose to leave that job, said Perry.
Part of the solution goes beyond prosecuting the perpetrator by providing the victims with certain life skills and resources to live independently, according to Perry.
Even when the victims are “restored” or rescued, both foreign and domestic victims are often re-trafficked.
Being Part of the Solution
Perry said society enables sex trafficking through it's rape culture and cheap unsecured labor and is therefore partially to blame for it.
"We as a society have a responsibility because of the systems we have created," Perry said. "A sensible policy is one that doesn't focus on punishing traffickers, but really asks former victims, current victims and advocates what they want and need, which is something our government doesn't do.”
Goods derived from countries with high concentrations of forced labor include: bricks, carpets, cattle, coal, cotton, embellished textiles, garments and sugarcane, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of International Labor Affairs.
However, FBI spokesperson Peter Lee said there are ways for the general public to help identify incidences of human trafficking.
Although each case varies, malnourishment is a possible indicator of human trafficking victims, according to Lee.
The Obama Administration recently outlined a four-year plan to strengthen their efforts to combat human trafficking, which includes increasing coordination and collaboration at the national, state and local levels; increase awareness among governmental agencies, community leaders and the general public; increase victim identification and resources for victims; and improving health, safety and well-being of human trafficking victims.
Current solutions both at the state and local level include case management, victim advocacy, housing, food, medical and dental care, health management treatment, substance abuse treatment, counseling, immigration and legal assistance and employment training services.
According to the report, there is a need to include survivors of human trafficking in developing policies, to overcome resource constraints, such as housing for victims and to have greater sharing of information among non-governmental organizations and federal agencies.
There are over 20 human trafficking criminal statues in California, according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.
Since 2000, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act has emphasized prevention, protection and prosecution, according to Obama’s recent report.
However, Perry said we should be moving away from the current model and focus more of victims’ needs.
“It's not glamorous or glorious, it's just they’re people, they deserve to be treated as human beings, not subjects of curiosity,” Perry said. “Some bad things happened to them that don’t happen to everyday people, but that doesn't mean they’re different in any fundamental way.”