Detectives battling the commercial sex trade – who have arrested nearly a dozen men in the Santa Clarita Valley since March – are now targeting the “demand side” of the illegal business.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell announced Thursday that detectives assigned to LASD’s Human Trafficking Bureau will be partnering with social media to disrupt the demand side of commercial sex through cybertechnology.
On Thursday, marking the second anniversary of the Los Angeles Regional Human Trafficking Task Force, McDonnell announced a new approach deployed in pursuit of the demand side of commercial sex.
Specifically, calling for a partnership between detectives with the Human Trafficking Bureau and a non-profit group called, Demand Abolition, which is dedicated to impacting human trafficking by eradicating the demand for exploited commercial sex workers.
The announcement came on the heels of a local arrest made Sunday of a 40-year-old unemployed homeless man on suspicion he was engaged in human trafficking.
When Lt. Kent Wegener was pressed for details about the arrest he told The Signal he could not comment because it was part of an ongoing investigation.
Similarly, the response from SCV Sheriff’s spokeswoman Shirley Miller was: “There is no additional information available as it is an active investigation.”
The suspect is accused of violating section 236.1 of the California penal code defined as anyone: “who deprives or violates the personal liberty of another with the intent to obtain forced labor or services, is guilty of human trafficking and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for 5, 8, or 12 years and a fine of not more than five hundred thousand dollars ($500,000).”
The suspect remains in custody with bail set at $100,000.
Sunday’s arrest marks the 11th man to be arrested by the Human Trarfficking Bureau in the SCV since March when four men – three of them residents of Newhall were arrested on suspicion of making arrangements to meet a minor for lewd behavior.
In April, detectives posting online advertisements offering sex with girls aged 16 and 14 ended up arresting four men Thursday – one local, three from out of town – on suspicion of making arrangements to meet a minor for lewd behavior.
In October, they arrested two more local men – each described as a having professional careers, also on suspicion of arranging to meet a minor for the purpose of engaging in lewd behavior.
The suspects – a 63-year-old respiratory therapist who lives in Oak Park and a 46-year-old finance manager of Valencia – were arrested by detectives with the specialized unit of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Going after the “demand side” of the human trafficking sex trade could spell more arrests in the Santa Clarita Valley.
McConnell’s announcement Thursday came during a press conference at the Hall of Justice, and, in forming the new partnership, he declared Los Angeles County a CEASE – or, Cities Empowered Against Sexual Exploitation network community.
The benefit, he explained, of joining this network of 11 other communities across the nation is the availability of 21st century technology to disrupt the buying and selling of human beings online, and arrest illegal sex buyers through cyber-based strategies.
With the advantage of a wide variety and number of social media applications, the availability and ease of committing sex-based crimes outpaced the ability to perform operations, according to McDonnell.
To counteract this, he said, CEASE Network digital strategies use open-source data to identify high-frequency buyers seeking underage girls; having this use of technology now available will greatly assist the task force detectives in pursuing criminal investigations or offering education to sex buyers who may not realize they are breaking the law.
With the employment of CEASE Network services, task force detectives are expected to gain the advantage of capturing more information about purchasers and their general profile, and thus be in a better position to strategically target online advertisements.
In speaking of the task force’s efforts over its two-year history, McDonnell cited the rescue of more than 205 victims of human trafficking, 151 of which were minors; the arrest of more than 200 pimps and traffickers; and the arrest of more than 250 men who attempted to purchase commercial sex.
“However, sex trafficking is moving off the streets and on to the internet where sex buyers think they can hide,” he said. “Today, we are saying there is nowhere to hide.”
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