Tuesday, January 25, 2005
U.S., LAPD, Others Form Task Force to Fight Human Trafficking
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A coalition of law enforcement and social service agencies has been formed to improve efforts to identify and assist victims of human trafficking, and to prosecute traffickers, U.S. Attorney Debra W. Yang said yesterday.
The area’s top federal prosecutor announced the formation of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area Task Force on Human Trafficking at a press conference attended by a number of task force members, including Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton.
Yang also used the occasion to announce that the Department of Justice has awarded a $450,000 grant to the Los Angeles Police Department to assist in its anti-trafficking efforts.
Besides the LAPD and Yang’s office, the task force includes representatives of the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking or CAST, private victim assistance organization; the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the United States Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General.
The task force held its first meeting last month, Yang said.
Bratton explained that in addition to coordinating training, prosecution and investigation efforts, the group will lobby for legislation to make human trafficking a state crime to assist with prosecution.
Current prosecution efforts fall under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, enacted in October 2000.
Kay Buck, executive director of CAST, said that Los Angeles is one of the most affected areas in the United States and that the coalition’s formation is a “major triumph.” In addition to training and assistance efforts, the task force offers an opportunity to demonstrate leadership to the entire country, Buck said.
Bratton said the DOJ grant, one of only 16 in the country, will be used to provide training to police officers to identify trafficking victims, to ask questions of individuals involved in domestic service, brothel, or sweatshop situations during criminal investigations, and to direct victims to available assistance, Bratton said.
Capt. Al Michalena, the LAPD liaison and coordinator for the task force, said they plan to train all 22,000 law enforcement officers in the county.
The grant money will also fund outreach to trafficking victims and their families and public service announcements regarding available assistance, Michelena said, with a portion of the funds to be used to document and track crime reports to obtain a more accurate picture of the extent of the problem.
Although the full scope of the problem is not known, it is estimated that between 600,000 and 800,000 victims are forcibly trafficked worldwide each year, with at least 20,000 of those victims smuggled into the United States, ICE Special Agent Loraine Brown said.
Human trafficking is the third most lucrative business worldwide, approaching $9.5 billion per year, Brown said, noting that only drugs and guns are bigger business. Yang added that the problem of trafficking is believed to be growing, both around the world and in the United States. She cited recent reports by UNICEF and other international organizations that traffickers are abducting young survivors of the recent tsunami in order to sell them on the black market.
Approximately 10 years ago, 72 Thai nationals were freed from a garment sweatshop in El Monte, where they were held as virtual slaves, Yang noted. She also cited recent incidents in San Diego and Hawaii and said that officials are certain there are many others forced into prostitution, sweatshops, agricultural fields, or domestic service.
Buck said CAST itself has assisted 75 victims of human trafficking, since the agency was formed in 1998, , providing food, shelter, health services, education, job training and legal services.
The task force will increase community efforts to identify trafficking victims and to create a safe haven for victims to seek assistance, including a means for victims to obtain immigration assistance and obtain a T-visa to encourage victims to come forward, Yang said. A T-visa allows trafficking victims to legally live and work in the United States for three years, before applying for permanent residency.
Human trafficking is “tantamount to slavery”, Bratton said, “Human bondage still exists.” The traffickers inflict gruesome and cruel forms of punishment on the victims, Yang said, which contributes to victims fear and unwillingness to identify themselves to law enforcement or social services, Yang said.
Bratton compared the current response for human trafficking to that for domestic violence in the 1970’s, noting that training for law enforcement, communication with the public, and assistance to victims has changed the way the domestic violence is viewed. With education and public awareness, Bratton said, he foresees a similar change in the reaction to trafficking victims in the coming years.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company