By Assembly Speaker Toni G. Atkins
Earlier this month, fans saw the Denver Broncos win the Super Bowl, Beyonce and Coldplay perform in the half-time show, and a diverse mix of funny, touching and even odd television commercials.
Large special events can be accompanied by an increase in human trafficking—primarily the sexual exploitation of women and children.
According to news reports, seven teenagers, as young as 14, were rescued from traffickers in the San Francisco Bay Area during the week of the big game.
Some of the victims had previously been reported missing by their parents, Federal Bureau of Investigation officials said. They ranged in age from 14 to 17. The FBI also announced that more than a dozen pimps were arrested in law enforcement sweeps on sex traffickers.
This kind of vigilance has become necessary year-round.
According to the FBI, the San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego metropolitan areas comprise three of the nation’s 13 areas of “high intensity” child sex trafficking exploitation in the country.
Experts agree the best way to prevent trafficking is if you see something, say something to the authorities. Some of the key indicators of human trafficking include:
- Someone who seems fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive or tense
- A person who has no possessions or ID, or claims to be just visiting but has no address
- An individual who is not allowed to speak for themselves
- Someone who is disoriented or has a disconnected “thousand-mile stare”
Victims of human trafficking are some of our most vulnerable members of society, and a heartbreaking number are homeless and runaway youth. The average age of a sex trafficking victim is 14 or 15 years old.
Trafficking is increasing because criminal groups have found it to be a low-risk and high-profit activity. The number of survivors found is also increasing, as more individuals and agencies are trained on how to identify potential victims.
To help combat trafficking year-round, members of the California State Assembly already have introduced a robust set of initiatives aimed at training industry employees who may come into contact with trafficked individuals, increasing funding for housing and supportive services for victims, and creating a statewide inter-agency task force that will include both law enforcement and social services to combat the growing problem.
San Diego has two major events scheduled this summer — Comic Con, the annual pop-culture convention, and the All-Star Game, which the San Diego Padres will host at Petco Park.
In advance of these events, a joint effort by the San Diego County Regional Human Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Advisory Council and representatives of the hospitality industry will lead to training to help staff at local hotels and motels better identify the warning signs of sex trafficking in their establishments.
In addition, a public awareness campaign about sex trafficking, “The Ugly Truth,” is slated to begin in April.
The hosts and organizers of Super Bowl 50, including the NFL, the Host Committee and the cities of Santa Clara, San Jose and San Francisco, also served as an example of the broad collaboration necessary to increase awareness and to protect potential victims.
Many of the anti-trafficking efforts that surrounded the game were coordinated with the South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking. The Coalition facilitates the No Traffick Ahead workgroup—which includes more than 65 agencies nationwide. Their efforts included posting volunteers at key locations and providing training materials to the hospitality industry to educate their members on how to spot and report suspicious activity.
Fighting human trafficking is a widespread and complex challenge. With all of us working together, we have the opportunity to strike a blow against this crime. By being vigilant, we can help make sure criminals who traffic in human beings are properly reported and prosecuted.
Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego) is Assembly Speaker and represents the 78th Assembly District. Last month Atkins introduced legislation to provide housing for sexually exploited children and ensure state agencies collaborate to stop the crime.
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