California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris discussed a new report, “The State of Human Trafficking in California 2012,” at the Ronald Tutor Campus Center on Friday. Harris was joined by U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and Attorney General of Mexico Marisela Morales.
The press conference detailed the extent of human trafficking in California and suggested strategies for law enforcement and non-governmental organizations to fight against it.
According to Harris, the report, which was released Friday, comes out of several months of work from hundreds of leaders in law enforcement, academia and non-governmental organizations.
“[The report is a] renewed commitment across many jurisdictional lines to combat the issue of trafficking, to renew our dedication to sharing information and intelligence and training to make sure that we maximize our ability to reach out to victims,” Harris said.
The logistics of the report include forecasts on the trends of, and a retrospective on, human trafficking. Data collected by the state of California in conjunction with the report shows evidence that 72 percent of human-trafficking victims are U.S.-born. Six percent are Chinese and 5 percent are Mexican, according to Harris.
“It not only involves the five-year-olds trafficked through the tunnels between Calexico–Mexicali up into California, but it includes the runaway from Kansas being trafficked through Las Vegas into West Hollywood,” Harris said.
Crimes are increasingly involving males as well as females, according to Harris, because of the new demand for labor as well as sex in the trafficking market.
The developments in technology coincide with the increasing rate of this crime because it affects how trafficking can be marketed, according to Harris’ overview. Websites such as www.BackPage.com, which features online classifieds, enable predators to buy their “products” online. Harris said these sites must be shut down and are a top priority for her office.
As criminals rely on technology for marketing, however, the government and collaborators, in the fight against trafficking, have also worked to use technology to their advantage. Harris and her team have recently collaborated with Yahoo!, which agreed to program its search engine so that it would identify words associated with human trafficking and implement a banner with a 1-800 help number for victims.
Hilda Solis, who has worked as the secretary of labor since 2009, said human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal enterprise in California, but also the most hidden from public view.
“We have an obligation to condemn human trafficking and punish it to the fullest extent of the law,” Solis said.
Solis noted the efforts made by President Barack Obama’s administration and the federal government to strengthen the training of officials to fight this rising crime. According to Solis, one of the federal government’s primary aims is to provide employment services, education and necessary tools to survivors of human trafficking in order to readjust to everyday life.
Mike Ramos, district attorney for San Bernardino, said that with the passage of Proposition 35 — an initiative that imposes larger fines and prison sentences for human trafficking crimes — the laws targeting trafficking are becoming harsher.
“We do have modern slavery now and it’s even worse — it’s underground, it’s behind closed doors, and now it’s going after our children, our most vulnerable victims,” Ramos said.
One of the featured speakers at the event was a former victim of human trafficking, Ima Matul. Matul recollected her story of being lured to America by false promises of a high-paying job and ending up in the hands of human traffickers, who forced her to work 18 hours a day, seven days a week.
After three years of physical and verbal abuse, Matul wrote to the nanny next door with the little English she knew and was able to escape.
“My message for the victims out there is don’t be afraid to come out because I was afraid — I was afraid that nobody out there could help me,” Matul said. “Don’t be afraid. There’s still hope for your life.”
The press conference was part of a symposium on human trafficking. The event was sponsored by the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy.