Though Human Trafficking Has Dipped in Orange County, Officials Still Applying the Heat
At a multi-agency press conference in Santa Ana Wednesday, county officials essentially said it takes a village to raise a victim out of human trafficking—while at the same time acknowledging human trafficking is down since the formation of the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force (OCHTTF) three years ago.
According to a new report, OCHTTF averaged six new victims a month in 2014, down from eight a month the year before. But the task force attributed the decrease to its focus temporarily being diverted to the development of the multijurisdictional approach to address future needs, rather than a drop in human trafficking. There are about 80 partner agencies and faith-based groups now belonging to OCHTTF.
This year's report includes the 2014 Victim Demographic Analysis, which shows of the 145 male and female human trafficking survivors who received victim services in Orange County last year by Community Service Programs and The Salvation Army, 69 (or 48 percent) were new victims.
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Of the 69 given victim assistance: 15 were foreign nationals; 54 were U.S. nationals; 34 were victims of labor trafficking and 105 were sex trafficking slaves. Five people were victims of both labor and sex trafficking. Those who endured labor or sex enslavement were predominately women, representing 91 percent of the victims assisted. Eight percent were male, while 1 percent represented transgender individuals.
"The issue of human trafficking continues to be an underground phenomenon, with many Orange County residents still discounting the fact this insidious crime occurs here," said Ronnetta Johnson, director of Community Service Programs Victim Assistance Programs and co-chair of OCHTTF. "In addition, many survivors report feeling alone, like they are the only ones caught up in human trafficking. However, the task force does see emerging evidence that the little-known issue of human slavery in Orange County is bubbling to the surface of relevancy and discussion, and we continue to gain knowledge about how to best assist these courageous survivors."
Victims let the OCHTTF know there are significant challenges to breaking free from the bonds of human trafficking and becoming self-sufficient, according to authorities. One survivor wrote, "The first thing is to help me look for a job right now. ... And just not to leave us because without the support of the program, we wouldn't know what to do. You all guide us and that's a huge help."
Victims say they need additional access to mental health services and requested that any individual or organization interacting with them understand what their "victimology" entails.
As for those who made these people victims, task force member the Orange County District Attorney's office reports it has obtained 76 convictions, sending most to state prison, including two for life in state prison. Only 10 convicted defendants served time in local jails or received formal probation.
"We will continue to stand up for victims of human trafficking, and we will not easily be deterred," said District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. "I hope everyone joins us to help end this egregious epidemic of modern-day slavery once and for all."
Word of Orange County's crackdown on pimps is spreading, according to Anaheim Police Sgt. Juan Reveles, who works on the vice unit concentrating on human trafficking. "We were interviewing one of them and I said, 'What would have prevented you from coming to Orange County?'" Reveles explained to City News Service. "And he said, 'If I knew the task force was there, then I know you're looking for me specifically and I have plenty of other places to go.'"
According to Rackauckas, one suspected pimp wrote online of Orange County, "They ain't playin' nomo dwn there."
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