Tue. Mar 5th, 2024

ANAHEIM, Calif., April 6, 2021Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force (OCHTTF) released the 2021 Human Trafficking Victim Report as it marked a 10-year milestone partnership of collaborative leadership by Anaheim Police Department and nonprofit Waymakers. The unique collaboration between law enforcement and victim services has made strides in community advocacy and education throughout the last decade, including during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In order to adequately handle the complex nature of human trafficking crimes and range of victims, the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force (OCHTTF) is a collaborative model of law enforcement, victim services, prosecution, government entities, nonprofit organizations, community organizations, and volunteers. With the support of the community and faith-based action committee, the purpose is to address the areas of protection, prosecution, and prevention in partnership with key stakeholders. Since 2013, OCHTTF has produced the Human Trafficking Victim Report to raise awareness of this often-invisible crime, documenting victims of modern-day sex and labor slavery in Orange County, California for public knowledge.

The 2021 Human Trafficking Victim Report shows that the task force assisted 357 victims of sex and labor trafficking in 2019-2020, including 317 sex trafficking victims and 33 labor trafficking victims. Of these victims, 330 were female and 27 were male, and 101 victims were minors. 

“In these challenging times of the pandemic, and racial unrest, we know that trafficking doesn’t stop,” explained Michelle Heater, program director, Victim Assistance Programs with Waymakers. “That is just one of the reasons why the Human Trafficking Victim Report is pivotal in creating public awareness and putting statistics to these cases. Not only is the task force creating community collaboration, awareness, and educational partnerships but we are getting these victims the advocacy, care and healing each one of them needs. Our goal as a Task Force is to put the victims first when it comes to our services and based upon this year’s report, we know there is a significant need among victims for our support.”

“A decade of collaboration allows us to really see change that we have enacted,” said Anaheim Police Chief Jorge Cisneros. “Our partnership began the process of police personnel looking at the human trafficking problem from a completely new, holistic perspective. It required a complete change in mindset from law enforcement in addressing the problem. The Anaheim Police Department is proud of its decade long commitment to the mission and the new approach becoming a department philosophy. We will continue to be the lead law enforcement agency for the Task Force.”

COVID-19 Impacts Victim Assistance Approach but Not Trafficking Activity

While the 2021 Victim Report shows a slight decrease in victims assisted compared to the last report released in 2019 (from 415 to 357), this was likely due to law enforcement’s limited ability to be proactive with human trafficking investigations and victim identification during COVID-19. Call-out response consisted of 13 percent in comparison to 27 percent in 2019 and 35 percent in 2018. The pandemic, however, increased the volume of calls from the National Human Trafficking Hotline with 29 percent of calls coming from victims who resided outside the service area of Orange County needing assistance.

Even with the pandemic, human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation continued as traffickers and exploiters took advantage of the vulnerabilities of victims. The Orange County Child Abuse Registry experienced an increase in calls for Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) that identified more Orange County youth compared to previous years along with information from law enforcement.

Although the number of referrals for services made from prosecution was high in 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, much of the work helping victims navigate the criminal justice system process was significantly slowed as investigations and the court system were unable to move at the same levels as before the pandemic.

The report also notes there were approximately 294 total referrals made to victim assistance services in 2019 and 2020, with 39 percent coming from law enforcement, 19 percent coming from the National Human Trafficking Hotline, and the remainder from the community, other government entities, family/friends, and self-referrals.

In 2020, therapy services increased for victims, which could be a result of increased mental health support needs due to the isolation and stress of COVID-19 on victims. The biggest challenge noted during 2020 was navigating how to provide support during a pandemic. Waymakers and The Salvation Army, the primary organizations providing direct victim support for trafficking victims, were forced to significantly adapt their service delivery models to comply with health guidelines. For example, support groups that offer victims the opportunity to openly speak about their trauma had to meet online and the sense of community shifted for those who needed support.

Key Findings in a Decade of Work

In 2010, the OCHTTF was one of three task forces awarded the U.S. Department of Justice – Bureau of Justice Assistance and Office for Victims of Crime’s first Enhanced Collaborative Model (ECM) to Combat Human Trafficking project and continues to function as such to address all forms of human trafficking in Orange County. Waymakers and Anaheim Police Department lead this ECM and have transitioned to a victim-centered and trauma-enforced approach with the goal of combatting human trafficking in Orange County.

Over the past decade, the data shows that human trafficking crosses all racial, ethnic, gender, socio-economic and cultural lines. Local law enforcement has consistently been the top victim referral source for trafficking cases, while family and friend referrals continue to remain low. Since victims of labor trafficking consisted mostly of foreign nationals, these findings are consistent and not surprising, since national victims have often left family behind in hopes of finding a better life in the U.S. and domestic victims often come from abused and neglected homes. While the number of foreign victims assisted has not significantly changed from year to year, the steady increase among the U.S. victims shifted the victim demographic percentage significantly. This correlates to the types of service needs that may differ between foreign and U.S. victims in response.

Criminal justice advocacy started as one of the bottom needs for victims but has gradually increased in need over the last 10 years. In the years that housing assistance needs among victims was higher, transportation assistance was lower, and this potentially shows that when access to housing in Orange County was limited, the need for relocation assistance and transportation assistance increases. This correlation is important for the OCHTTF to consider as Orange County is a destination location for human trafficking victimization; approximately 80 percent of victims are not from Orange County. Depending on the locations where sex trafficking may be occurring—street, hotels, residential brothels, massage parlors—the victims are brought into Orange County anywhere from days to months before they are moved again.

A notable finding over the past decade was that from 2012 to 2020, 94 percent of cases reviewed by the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit were filed and of the cases that went to jury trial, 95 percent received a guilty verdict. “The Orange County District Attorney’s Office has been unwavering in its commitment to investigating and prosecuting human traffickers and protecting the most vulnerable victims, including our children,” said Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer. “Justice is what is right for the individual, what is right for society, and what is right for the victims. For the last decade, this invaluable partnership between law enforcement, prosecutors, and victims’ assistance is helping to provide justice in human trafficking cases and help safeguard victims from predators who will do everything they can to exploit them.”

Looking Ahead to the Next Decade

While this report not only highlights the collaboration of a 10-year partnership, it looks forward to how the Task Force can continue its work for the next 10 years and beyond. The Task Force hopes to grow the current efforts from victim services, law enforcement, prosecution, social services, probation and all disciplines who are in a position to come across victims. This can happen with the identification and distribution of funds to expand training for the multi-disciplinary partners; hire and sustain experienced, bicultural staff; and development of specialized units and staff until institutional knowledge on human trafficking becomes more universal.

The Task Force also recommends a public health focus on prevention, exit strategy options and community reintegration to reduce recidivism and the revolving door of victimization for this serial crime. Prevention education for both male and female youth with strategies to divert youth from committing these acts of power, control, and violence is also critical. Opportunities to provide accessible and safe platforms for survivors to provide feedback and have a voice in building and changing programming is also recommended to inform additional victim-centered and trauma-informed training for service providers, law enforcement, and the community.

About Waymakers
Every day throughout Orange County, people find hope after trauma. They don’t simply survive; they find ways to heal – all with the help of Waymakers, formerly called Community Service Programs. Waymakers’ eight model programs guide over 120,000 abused children, crime victims, struggling families, acting-out adolescents and people needing mediation services annually. Waymakers has been sheltering children, supporting victims, counseling families, resolving conflicts and educating communities in Orange County since 1972. Learn more at WaymakersOC.org.

About the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force
The Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force (OCHTTF) is a multidisciplinary antihuman trafficking effort of over 60 agencies including law enforcement, victim service providers, nonprofit organizations, faith-based organizations, government agencies and the community. The OCHTTF is committed to combatting all forms of human trafficking, recovering victims, prosecuting offenders, advocating on behalf of victims, raising community awareness and strengthening collaborative partnerships. For more information on the OCHTTF and resources, visit ochumantrafficking.com.

By Editor

The New Santa Ana blog has been covering news, events and politics in Santa Ana since 2009.

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