The City of Santa Monica has recently stepped up its fight against human trafficking, especially to find and protect victims who have been forced to engage in prostitution and labor. This is a critical time to do so: Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal enterprise in the United States, already a nine-billion-dollar industry, and up to 17,500 victims are trafficked into the U.S. every year.
Los Angeles County is one of the top three points of entry into the U.S. for victims of slavery and trafficking. The diverse communities here make it easier to hide and move victims from place to place, and that in turn makes it difficult for law enforcement to locate and help them.
New efforts in Los Angeles and Santa Monica focus on the place to place aspect of trafficking; to find and protect trafficking victims by identifying the places and situations where trafficking occurs or crosses. Places such as motels, bars, urgent care centers, massage parlors, buses, trains, and stations, along with cabs and other ride businesses. The evidence is overwhelming that if information about how to report possible trafficking in these places is posted in these places, then witnesses and victims are much more likely to report the problem. For victims facing the fear, abuse and isolation that comes with trafficking, a poster with resource information can be a lifeline.
Along with the Santa Monica Police Department’s current work against trafficking, and with the help of the National Council of Jewish Women-Los Angeles and the Santa Monica Commission on the Status of Women, the City Attorney’s Office has asked local businesses to help.” For example, the City is reaching out to taxi companies and ride companies such as Uber and Lyft. These drivers have the potential to play a key part in the fight against trafficking. Not only can the drivers be the eyes and ears of the community, but traffickers often use taxis to transport victims. If ride companies train their drivers to watch for the signs of trafficking and give them the hotline number, the drivers may help save a victim.
There are at least three ways that other local businesses and residents can help the fight against human trafficking:
First, go to the Coalition To Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) website at www.castla.org or attend the City Attorney’s Office-sponsored showing of the movie SOLD (co-sponsored with the Rotary Club) at the Santa Monica Library on April 1, 2017.
Second, if a business believes that trafficking might ever cross its doors, the business can post one of the hotline posters that the City has produced with CAST.
Third, we can all watch for signs of trafficking and help spread a basic description of the signs. Here, for example, is the text message we have asked local cab companies to send to their drivers:
“Human Trafficking: buying & selling of humans for forced sex/labor act. Victim signs: no eye contact, inappropriate clothing, fearful. Traffickers: control victim movement/conversation. Will ask driver to wait outside hotel, etc. & offer big tip for cooperation. Anonymous reporting to 888 539-2373, 24/7, over 100 languages.”
The Consumer Protection Division of the City Attorney’s Office enforces the law and educates the public about tenants’ rights, fair housing, consumer protection and other issues. They can be reached at 310-458-8336 or smconsumer.org.