#minorsextrafficking | Commentary: Why we’re calling on California to create an Anti-Human Trafficking Council

Slavery may seem like a thing of the past, but even today in California, innocent men, women and children are forced into servitude. They are victims of labor trafficking, a horrific crime that denies its victims fundamental freedoms and basic justice. As a state, we know little about it and lack a strong response.

This must change.

That’s why California’s Little Hoover Commission is calling for a more streamlined and coordinated approach to fighting all forms of human trafficking. The state should create a new Anti-Human Trafficking Council that will gather data, ensure that agencies work together and assess the effectiveness of our efforts.

Many recognize the term human trafficking to mean sexual exploitation, a heinous form of abuse that must be stopped. Labor trafficking, lesser known and more difficult to detect, preys upon vulnerable populations for the benefit of their labor. From farms and factories to beauty salons and private homes, victims of labor trafficking are forced or coerced to work long hours in oppressive conditions for little or no pay.

Yet California, one of the nation’s top destinations for trafficking, knows very little about the extent of this abuse. We know labor trafficking can and does occur in urban or rural settings, alongside or within legitimate businesses, behind locked doors or hidden in plain sight. We know that it doesn’t discriminate between male or female, young or old, citizen or immigrant. Beyond this there is a shocking lack of information and data about where trafficking hot spots are located, who traffickers are, and how to locate and help survivors. Too often, that disjointed approach fails victims.

Even though state lawmakers recognized the importance of combating human trafficking back in 2005 when they made both sex and labor trafficking felonies, subsequent efforts to identify, prosecute and prevent these crimes equally have fallen short. Anti-trafficking programs and task forces too often neglect labor trafficking to focus on more easily detectable sex trafficking.

Last fall, our commission launched a study on California’s response to labor trafficking. We are the chair of the commission, and two members of its labor trafficking subcommittee.

Aware that trafficking can afflict border communities, our commission went to San Diego in November to learn about the issue. Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, who has enacted bills to help battle trafficking, opened the hearing. Then we heard from survivors, experts and prosecutors. Since then, we’ve heard from an even wider variety of advocates, government officials and organizations.

The experts made one thing clear: California needs a coordinated response to both sex and labor trafficking so it can better serve and protect victims.

Leadership at the state level is essential to making this happen. Our new report, “Human Trafficking: Coordinating a California Response,” calls for a new California Anti-Human Trafficking Council.

Yes, times are tough and the budget is strapped, but the cause is too urgent and the injustice too great to tolerate delay.

This council, which will consist of people from diverse backgrounds and regions, will coordinate the state’s anti-trafficking efforts across all levels of government and among all kinds of organizations. More collaboration will mean better services for victims and survivors and stronger prosecution for traffickers.

Beyond that, the council will fill in the gaps in our knowledge: studying the extent of labor trafficking, cataloging the resources the state now commits to the fight, assessing what resources might be needed in the future and evaluating the effectiveness of our efforts.

By partnering with local leaders, law enforcement and advocates, the state will come to know more and respond better.

Our commission will keep working on this issue, and plans to release more reports in the coming months. But this crime demands an immediate response, and creating a statewide council is a crucial first step. California can — and must — take a stand against this injustice.

Nava is the chair of the Little Hoover Commission. Buiza and Aroner are members of the commission’s subcommittee on labor trafficking.


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