The City of Santa Monica will begin a new effort to fight human trafficking including a mandatory education and outreach campaign to potential victims.
City Council authorized the new plan at the Sept. 13 meeting and responsibility for the program will fall with the City Attorney’s Office.
As proposed, the City Attorney’s Office will mail free copies of a hotline poster to businesses throughout the city. A letter will be included describing the legal obligations for displaying the poster and local attorney’s will work with other agencies to monitor compliance.
As of 2013, California State Law requires display of the poster at business such as bars and nightclubs, adult or sexually-oriented business, primary airports, intercity passenger rail stations or light rail stations, bus stations, truck stops, hospital emergency rooms or urgent care centers, privately operated job recruitment centers and business or establishment offering massage or bodywork services for compensation.
The Human Trafficking Outreach Project (HTOP), currently managed and run by the National Council of Jewish Women|LA, has aimed to increase implementation of SB 1193 in Los Angeles County through volunteer participation and engagement, poster distribution, mandated locations research, visit tracking, and data compilation and analysis.
The organization has trained and organized 467 volunteers to conduct in-person outreach but has said some businesses are resistant to the required posters.
“Both sustained compliance and progress on implementing the policy among all mandated businesses and establishments in Los Angeles County will remain deficient without the official implementation and effective enforcement of the law on both a city-by-city and countywide basis. For these reasons, NCJW|LA is grateful to the City of Santa Monica for taking this first step in enforcement of SB 1193,” said the organization in a statement.
Councilman Kevin McKeown asked for the resolution and said to the best of his knowledge, Santa Monica is the first municipality to take a specific action in support of the state regulations.
“Los Angeles County is one of the top three points of entry in the entire country for human trafficking,” he said in a statement. “For trafficking’s victims, fearful and isolated, a simple poster with a hotline phone can be a lifeline. Our requiring posting in certain Santa Monica businesses doesn’t mean that those particular businesses are part of the problem – it means that Santa Monica is committed to being part of the solution.”
The Los Angeles chapter of The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW|LA) worked with the city on the resolution.
“I am very thankful for the actions done by council member McKeown, for implementing the human trafficking awareness resolution. For Santa Monica to be the leader in this act is important” said Maya Paley, Director of Legislative and Community Engagement NCJW|LA. “We saw the law was not being implemented in the Los Angeles county and we have now trained volunteers all over the county to go to businesses and promote this poster. From what we have gathered the posters are being used, and we have been getting calls from people seeking for help.”
In a statement, NCJW|LA said human trafficking is about the exploitation of persons who are coerced into labor or the sex trade through force and fraud.
Stephanie Molen, the Director of Partnerships for the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) was present at a small rally before the council meeting.
She said “Human Trafficking is one of the largest growing crime industry and it is effecting people everywhere, even here in Los Angeles County. If the resolution is passed this poster can be up in many places and not only help victims of this horrific act but inform individuals, every day people, to learn and know more about human trafficking and what to look out for. We need Santa Monica to enforce this law. McKeown is the hope and leader for this resolution to pass. We can end modern day slavery.”
Nancy Kless, a Santa Monica resident for more than 25 years said, “I am a Santa Monica resident and I have always taken pride in living in this wonderful town. Now, to know that there is human trafficking going on in Los Angeles and probably within the Santa Monica area makes me sick and it is truly scary. That is why putting up these posters and making sure businesses all around have them up is so very important to these victims.”
Elena Christopoulos, resident of Santa Monica for over 10 years and a member of The Santa Monica Commission on the Status of Women also supported the passage of this Resolution, “If the resolution is passed we will be the first in LA County to do so. I think Santa Monica is moving forward and by doing so we, the city, can stop human trafficking.”
The new resolution was drafted with the full support of the City Attorney’s Office.
Deputy City Attorney Gary Rhoades said human trafficking is now a $9 billion industry and one of the fastest-growing criminal enterprises in the United States.
His office said up to 17,500 victims are trafficked here every year with the County and sex workers make up the great majority of human trafficking victims and many of them are minors.
He said the poster information can be lifeline to those being held against their will and he hopes the local efforts will meet with the kind of success seen elsewhere.
According to advocates, the increased display of the poster has already increased calls linked to the poster viewing to the local hotline by 250%.
“We’ve put together a plan and a poster with the goal of reaching a similar increase in reporting,” he said.
BY MATTHEW HALL & MARINA ANDALON