Last week, a multi-agency law-enforcement crackdown on human trafficking throughout California netted 474 arrests and rescued 55 victims – almost half of the latter, children.
Now a bill introduced by state Sen. Henry Stern is looking to help future such victims, or prevent their exploitation in the first place.
Stern, a Democrat representing the 27th District, which includes parts of Santa Clarita, last week introduced Senate Bill 225 – a measure that would add hotels and motels to the list of venues required to post hotline numbers that could give human-trafficking victims a route of escape, and provide others a way to report trafficking activity.
“California, and Los Angeles in particular, are on the front lines of the fight against human slavery and trafficking,’’ Stern said in a statement.
“Thousands suffer in silence, unsure where to turn for help. SB 225 will bring us to parity with states like Illinois and Louisiana, where hotels and motels have joined the fight.”
This expansion of hotline information makes a great deal of sense, Lt. Kent Wegener of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department’s Regional Human Trafficking Task Force told The Signal.
“The largest place where these crimes are taking place is in the hotel and motel industry,’’ Wegener said.
“I’m not opposed to any kind of education to get the word out. There is a real problem. But it doesn’t sound like it’s that much of a burden on these businesses. I think it’s probably a good thing.”
Last week’s annual crackdown on trafficking – dubbed Operation Reclaim and Rebuild — was coordinated among the Sheriff’s Department, LAPD, FBI, Homeland Security and the U.S. Attorney’s office.
It involved, among other tactics, sting operations that targeted johns, as well as detectives posing as juveniles on line to nab predators.
According to Wegener, of the 474 arrests and 55 rescues coming out of Operation Reclaim and Rebuild statewide, 280 arrests and 21 rescues occurred in Los Angeles County. No more specific numbers were available.
Of the 21 L.A. County rescues, he said, 15 were for juveniles, under the age of 18. Some had been reported missing, while others were lured into prostitution, according to reports.
Stern’s bill is backed by an array of groups, including National Council of Jewish Women CA, the California National Organization for Women, Hadassah, and the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST).
“CAST strongly supports the updates SB 225 provides to the hotline posting requirement,’’ said Kay Buck, CEO and executive director of CAST’s Los Angeles operation.
“Our research has shown that hotline posting is tied to increased investigation and prosecution of human trafficking crimes. Survivors served by CAST have also voiced that access to information through a hotline posting could have made all the difference in finding freedom from their traffickers.”
In 2013, California passed a law that required certain venues – among them, transit stations, airports, acute-care emergency rooms, massage parlors – to post hotline numbers. But surprisingly, hotels and motels were not among those required to do so.
Stern’s bill is an attempt to plug that obvious gap.
“This bill would additionally require hotels, motels, inns, bed and breakfasts, and other locations that provide transient lodging, other than personal residences, to post the notice relating to slavery and human trafficking and would require the notice to specify that a person can also text specified nonprofit organizations for services and support,” the legislation says.
The senator’s office said that, each year, the National Human Trafficking Hotline yields thousands of cases, including 7,572 in 2016.
According to published reports, California tops the nation in the number of trafficking cases reported, with some 5,500 reported last year.
Worldwide, some 20.9 million adults and children are bought and sold into commercial sexual servitude, forced labor and bonded labor, according to a 2012 study by the United Nations’ International Labour Organization.
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline number is: 1-888-373-7888.
The hotline numbers for the California Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) are: 1-888-KEY-2-FRE(EDOM) or 1-888-539-2373.
Stern’s office said those numbers are available 24/7, and in 160 languages.
His bill was introduced Feb. 2, 2017 and awaits its first committee hearing.