Sergeant Dustin Contreras with the Kern Coalition Against Human Trafficking spoke about efforts to stop this prevalent crime. | Catherine Stachowiak/Kern Valley Sun
Sergeant Dustin Contreras from the Kern County Sheriff’s Office spoke about the problem of human trafficking at the Tuesday, Aug. 8, meeting of the Lake Isabella and Bodfish Property Owners Association (LIBPOA).
Contreras, co-director for Kern Coalition Against Human Trafficking (KCAHT), was the first human trafficking detective in Kern County. The other director of KCAHT is Carol Beecroft, CEO of the Women’s Center-High Desert.
“She and I together facilitate all the things that happen,” Contreras said. “We are kind of behind the scenes.”
According to Contreras, KCAHT started in 2012. The group consists of experts on human trafficking within Kern County, including the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, Kern County Probation, Kern County Sheriff’s office, Bakersfield Police Department, California Highway Patrol and some nonprofit organizations.
“Primarily what KCAHT does is we man the national human trafficking hotline,” Contreras said. The information assists the team in rescuing victims.
Contreras said KCAHT also dispels myths sensationalizing human trafficking on social media.
“I run the KCAHT human trafficking page on Facebook, and if I share a story of a survivor, it may get 100 shares,” Contreras said. He pointed out that other fake sensationalized stories can get thousands of shares in 12 hours, spreading misinformation.
Human trafficking often occurs online through the cell phones of teens. “With social media, that person is now in your home unbeknownst to you,” Contreras said.
Many trafficking victims are used for the sex trade though others are used for labor purposes. Examples of the jobs people are trafficked for are selling flowers on street corners and guarding illegal marijuana groves.
Victims are lured through deceptive means. Contreras said a lot of victims were transported on the metro train from Palmdale into Orange County under the guise they’ll be in a rap music video. The video can appear to be a legitimate production.
“They do this video but then also get forced into prostitution,” he said.
Practical ways KCAHT assists rescued victims are helping them to attain their driver’s license, pay for college books, or attain housing. KCAHT runs entirely off donations.
“Traffickers move along the freeways. When they converge together to go to Las Vegas, Bakersfield is the last major city, the last stop,” he said.
Human traffickers trick the victims to go to Bakersfield because it’s a testing ground to brainwash their victims and pimp them out.
Within California, human trafficking is very prevalent because the state is close to ports.
Because native indigenous people are not part of a census, they are easier to traffic. KCAHT works on gaps that leave people vulnerable to head off human trafficking.
KCAHT educates faith-based organizations and schools to bring awareness to the topic.
Law enforcement has also worked to prevent prisoners in prison from recruiting others into human trafficking.