Human Trafficking in California

Written by Ralph E. Stone. Posted in News

Published on January 11, 2010 with 7 Comments


By Ralph E. Stone

January 11, 2010

By proclamation, President Obama proclaimed January 2010 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Across the country, anti-trafficking organizations are hosting activities, from film screenings to training on community response efforts.

In 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified abolishing slavery in the United States: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Yet, over a hundred years later, thousands of human beings are trafficked every year and forced to become sex slaves, domestic workers, child soldiers, or agricultural laborers.

The statistics are startling: 27 million enslaved people worldwide; a $12 billion industry growing faster than drugs or arms; 600 to 800 thousand trafficked across international borders each year; and about 80 percent are women and children.

In 2000, human trafficking came out of the shadows in the Bay Area. Berkeley landlord and restaurateur Lakireddy Bali Reddy was charged with smuggling minors into the U.S. and keeping them as sex slaves. (He was later sentenced to more than eight years in prison and ordered to pay $2 million in restitution.) Were it not for the accidental death of a 17-year-old girl brought here from India with her younger sister – the result of a malfunctioning heater in their small Bancroft Way apartment – that case, which involved at least 25 girls over a period of 15 years, might never have come to light.

California is a top destination for human traffickers. Our extensive international border, major harbors and airports, large economy and growing population, large immigrant population, and industries make it a prime target for traffickers. This crime causes harm to its victims, but secondary consequences of human trafficking can severely affect California communities. The link between human trafficking and other criminal activities such as human smuggling, drug trafficking, money laundering and organized crime, increases the potential for other violent crimes. The impact of human trafficking on surrounding communities includes increased crime and gang activity, child exploitation, public health problems and depressed wages.

In October 2000, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 was enacted. Prior to that, no comprehensive Federal law existed to protect victims of trafficking or to prosecute their traffickers.

California too has enacted a number of laws to combat human trafficking. In 2005, the California Trafficking Victims Protection Act was enacted, which made human trafficking a felony and provides for restitution to its victims; and the Human Trafficking Collaboration and Training Act, which requires law-enforcement officers to be trained in responding to human trafficking. California also established the California Alliance to Combat Trafficking and Slavery Task Force to conduct a thorough review of California’s response to human trafficking and report its findings and recommendations to the Governor, Attorney General and Legislature. In October 2007, the Task Force issued its report, “Human Trafficking in California.”

In 2008, a California law provides treatment and counseling to victims of human trafficking. Many victims of human trafficking are undocumented foreigners who fear deportation if they cooperate with law enforcement agencies. Another law gives victims of human trafficking the right to request, and upon that request require, that his or her name not become a matter of public record. The law also requires law enforcement officials to use due diligence in identifying human trafficking victims regardless of citizenship status to ensure that all victims of these terrible crimes are protected.

In October 2009, Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law, a bill which increases the penalty for human traffickers. The new changes include:

– Adding “abduction or procurement by fraudulent inducement for prostitution,” i.e. sex trafficking, to the definition of “criminal profiteering activity.” Existing California law provides for the forfeiture of property and proceeds acquired through a pattern of criminal profiteering activity, so the new law will also now provide for the possibility of forfeiture of property and proceeds acquired through sex trafficking.

– In cases involving “human trafficking of minors for purposes of prostitution or lewd conduct,” or “abduction or procurement by fraudulent inducement for prostitution,” money and proceeds from property forfeited will be placed in a fund to be available for appropriation to fund child sexual exploitation and child sexual abuse victim counseling centers and prevention programs; 50% of such funds are to be granted to “community-based organizations that serve minor victims of human trafficking.”

– An increase in the maximum amount of additional authorized fine from $5000 to $20,000 for any person convicted of procurement of a child under 16, or abduction for the purpose of prostitution of a person under 18. 50 percent of such fines collected will also go to community-based organizations that serve minor victims of human trafficking.

To help you learn more about the issues surrounding human trafficking, the following films are recommended: “Lilia 4-Ever,” a Swedish film depicting the struggles of Lilja, a16-year-old girl living in an unidentified ex-Soviet republic; “Children for Sale,” a Dateline documentary shot by a film crew that went undercover with a human rights group to uncover sex trafficking in Cambodia; “Promised Land,” a film by Amos Gitai about human trafficking from Eastern Europe to Israel; “Trading Women,” this film investigates the trade in minority girls and women out of Burma, Yunnan and Laos into Thailand; and “The Day My God Died,” a documentary about young girls whose lives have been shattered by the child sex trade in Nepal and India.

“Despite the development of even the most comprehensive services, the best way to assist survivors of trafficking is to prevent them from becoming victims. Prevention must take a dual approach, reducing both supply-side factors in countries where trafficking originates and demand-side factors in countries of destination.” (Rachel Shigekane, The Human Rights Center University of California, Berkeley)

Ralph E. Stone

I was born in Massachusetts; graduated from Middlebury College and Suffolk Law School; served as an officer in the Vietnam war; retired from the Federal Trade Commission (consumer and antitrust law); travel extensively with my wife Judi; and since retirement involved in domestic violence prevention and consumer issues.

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Comments for Human Trafficking in California are now closed.

  1. There is suspected trafficking going on in my neighborhood but the police won’t investigate. Anyone have any advice for getting some action?


    • Contact the Polaris Project

  2. Thank you for writing this and bringing to light an issue that is occurring right in our backyards in the San Francisco Bay Area.

    There are ways to fight this atrocity, and one of them is to affect change in the laws regarding human trafficking. California Against Slavery is a grassroots non-profit with the mission of putting an initiative on the 2010 California General Election Ballot to strengthen human trafficking laws and increase victims’ rights. We need all the help we can get, so please volunteer or spread the word.

    Thank you.

    California Against Slavery

  3. Greg, coming out against human trafficking even though you, yourself drive a car?

    Fewer cars, less human trafficking and the better off it will be for all.

  4. In addition to the movies above, one interesting book on the subject is Laura Agustin’s “Sex at the Margins”:

    It’s not necessarily an opposing view per se, but certainly an alternative take on the whole issue of trafficking, and the rescue industry set up around it. What I liked about it is how comparatively well-researched it was. And you really get an appreciation of how difficult it is to get good research done on this subject. Whether you agree or disagree with the book’s conclusions, I guarantee that if you read it, you’ll take everything else you ever hear in the msm about trafficking with a grain of salt.

  5. Why not discuss the roles of the SFWeekly and Bay Guardian in being the primary purveyors of human trafficking in SF?

  6. Pretty good Ralph. Well done. Without sounding like a nut case, the ‘system’ feeds on human trafficking, a crime (these days) which can be defined as any process that results in the exploitation (either sexual or labor) of people. Of course the selling of drugged women to brothels is immeasurably worse than hiring an illegal migrant to mow your lawn and clean your pool. But on the demand side, the motive is the same: call-centers are the cotton fields of the 21st century bro.