By Stephanie Boulos, Neha Malhi and Angie Madrid
LOS ANGELES, CA – As human trafficking cases increased, California Attorney General Rob Bonta launched the Human Trafficking and Sexual Predator Apprehension Teams (HT/SPAT) within the California Department of Justice on this month.
In an effort to disrupt and eradicate human trafficking along with the exploitation of children, the new program provides guidance on how to reduce any harm that may arise in the interactions between law enforcement and sexually exploited children.
With the impact of the ongoing pandemic on human trafficking, the program also proposes an increase in funds to support survivors in California – with a proposal of $30 million in grants over the next three years.
AG Bonta emphasized the program’s mission, stating, “Plain and simple: Human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery. Whether it’s forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation of children, there is no place for these kinds of crimes in California or anywhere.”
The program seeks out the help of other agencies to tackle the ongoing issue.
Attorney Bonta explained, “I urge our partners across the state to reach out whenever they are in need of assistance. No one agency can do it alone ‒ and we need more than arrests to have a real, lasting impact on survivors, particularly children.”
As part of the program, survivors will be supported with various services.
Assembly Member Miguel Santiago, noted, “A historic state investment of $60 million over the next three years coupled with the Attorney General’s statewide efforts will provide survivors much needed services such as housing, food, legal representation, and emergency response that could prove life-saving.”
According to the National Trafficking Hotline, California has the highest levels of reported human trafficking cases in the nation ‒ more than 1,500 cases in 2019. The individuals impacted within these cases vary from migrant communities and to garment workers.
As a result of new infusion of funds, the HT/SPAT has begun to starting up its engagement with the federal., state and local law enforcements partners, to develop a more comprehensive and collaborative statewide response to address the issue of human trafficking in California.
This program is using a victim-centered approach to investigate and identify forced labor or sexual exploitation done by human traffickers and sexual predators.
This program will work to ensure that sex offenders, who are classified as “ Well Above Average Risk Offenders” in the registry of California’s sex offenders, are in compliance with the California’s laws.
In order to ensure this, 13 newly appointed special agents and two crime analysts will be directly tackling and will assist to eradicate the problem of human trafficking in the state, said the AG office.
The AG is encouraging all the partners across the state to reach out to this program for assistance regarding human trafficking cases which involves complex or has impact on multiple jurisdictions.
This program has led to various action taken to eradicate this problem such as “Nearly 300 on-the-ground address checks of potential suspects and high-risk sex offenders, executions of two dozen search warrants,” said the AG.
In addition to developing this program, AG Bonta has also issued guidelines which will help law enforcement agencies to protect commercially sexually exploited children from further harm.
The California’s Legislature has implemented a number of state laws, aiming to ensure that youth involved in the commercial sexual exploitation will not be labeled as criminals.
Senate Bill 1322 of 2016 has made laws which “criminalize soliciting or engaging in prostitution inapplicable to anyone under 18 years of age, fundamentally changing the aspects of the relationship between youth and law enforcements.”
Regardless of the attempt made by law enforcement to criminalize prostitution for those under the age of 18, the main concern lies in changing how the youth perceives law enforcement.
The addition of new legislation is not the solution, argues the AG press release, noting that instead, the focus is in building trust and long term relationships with law enforcement. With “patience, consistency, and recognition” the approach for harm reduction will be successful.
The attorney general then proceeded to offer a framework for harm reduction along with strategies and approaches that help to protect sexually exploited youth.
Among them are to remember the effects trauma has on recalling information, to be patient and allow for time and space, establish a sense of trust, remain communicative and engaged, and protect victims from having to publicly provide testimony.
With pending approval from the Governor, the proposal contains a huge new investment in “direct services for supervisors of human trafficking” in grants that would be administered by the Governors Emergency Services office.
The grants would serve the sole purpose of easing the needs that have arisen from the COVID-19 pandemic like job loss, increase in online grooming, and lack of in person assistance.
Service organizations during the pandemic reported a sharp increase in calls for help and hotline use. The grants encompass $30 million in new funding over three years.
The California Department of Justice additionally provides notices inline of human trafficking that are required to be posted by certain businesses, to ensure victims are aware of the resources available to them.
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