Sex trafficking victim
An officer talks with a sex trafficking victim. Courtesy FBI

California Attorney General Rob Bonta Friday formally launched regional teams to battle human trafficking, while encouraging law enforcement to adopt new techniques to support victims.

The Human Trafficking and Sexual Predator Apprehension Teams – established last year with one each in Southern California and Northern California – are now nearly fully staffed and have already taken action across the state to support partners in preventing human trafficking and the criminal exploitation of children.

According to the FBI, the San Diego metropolitan area is among three of the top child prostitution regions nationwide.

Bonta highlighted new funds included in the proposed state budget aimed at fighting human trafficking and directly supporting survivors. The money, $30 million in new grants over the next three years, is in addition to $10 million per year already included in the budget.

“Plain and simple, human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery,” Bonta said. “Whether it’s forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation of children, there is no place for these kinds of crimes in California or anywhere. Unfortunately, the pandemic has only served to exacerbate many of the underlying risks that lead to human trafficking in our state.”

Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles called human trafficking “one of the biggest human rights challenges of our time.”

Bonta’s efforts, he said, “will provide survivors much-needed services such as housing, food, legal representation and emergency response that could prove lifesaving.”

The state teams were formed within the California Department of Justice.

According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, there were more than 1,500 human trafficking cases reported in California in 2019 – more than any other state in the nation.

In California, human trafficking – the exploitation of men, women and children for sex or labor through force, fraud or coercion, for profit – has been most prevalent in urban areas.

In addition to San Diego, the FBI found that the two other hot spots for child prostitution nationwide also are in California, in the Los Angeles and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

Victims of human trafficking also can be found among migrant and seasonal agricultural workers, providers of residential care and in California’s garment sector. Despite these ongoing concerns, California has historically lacked a statewide, collaborative approach to human trafficking enforcement.

The budget proposal has attracted celebrity support, from actresses Alyssa Milano and Mira Sorvino, who appeared with Bonta and Santiago in Los Angeles Friday to urge support for the funding.

Bonta also issued a bulletin to local authorities to provide guidance on key techniques meant to help reduce harm in law enforcement interactions with sexually exploited youth.