HUMAN TRAFFICKING LA STYLE--As the FBI mobilizes to crack down on Bay Area sex trafficking in the weeks leading up to Super Bowl 50, community leaders met at California State University Northridge last week to tackle sex trafficking in the Valley. Just hours after the event, the Valley Bureau Human Trafficking Task Force apprehended and arrested several suspects now charged with pimping and pandering. LA Council Member Nury Martinez joined LAPD and federal investigators on the undercover sting operation in Van Nuys that led to the arrests. Martinez was present in the sting’s final hours and during the arrest and investigation.
Late last year, the LA City Council led by Martinez created the Valley Bureau of Human Trafficking Task Force to end decades of prostitution and trafficking along the Sepulveda and Lankershim corridors. “With the help of law enforcement and many resources within LAPD, we were able to dismantle a large and complex prostitution ring,” said Lieutenant Marc Evans of the Operations Valley Bureau and head of the task force.
The task force worked with LAPD Major Crimes, Foothill Vice, Detective Support and Vice Division, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on the investigation and arrest.
“Valley residents are fed up with seeing young women put up for sale on our street corners,” said Councilwoman Martinez. “As the only woman on the LA City Council, I take it very seriously and personally that I be the voice for these young girls and all women who are victims of human trafficking.”
Thursday’s arrests were the result of the exceptional coordination of both local and federal law enforcement agencies. The investigation focused on a brothel that had four locations. Search warrants were served at those four locations throughout the valley on Thursday evening, including two in the Sixth District that is represented by the council member.
According to Kim Roth, executive director of Strength United, California has emerged as a magnet for sex trafficking of children. San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego are among the nation’s 13 high intensity child prostitution areas identified by the FBI.
Up north, the FBI opened a Human Trafficking Operation Center last week, coinciding with the start of Super Bowl week. A trial run in October resulted in the rescues of six children in the Bay Area, the youngest victim at 12 years old.
High-profile events like the Super Bowl are lucrative opportunities for sex traffickers and criminal activity, according to Michele Ernst, a spokesperson for the FBI. “It’s market and demand,” she says.
Betty Ann Boeving, the executive director and founder of the Bay Area Anti-Trafficking Coalition estimates that less than 10 percent of those in the sex industry choose to participate. “Most are being forced against their will. Many are underage girls. This is the business of rape for profit,” she says.
“I’m looking forward to shining a light on human trafficking in the Valley,” said Councilwoman Martinez. “We will raise awareness on all possible solutions going forward. I’m committed to fighting human trafficking in the San Fernando Valley.”
The efforts led by Martinez and others will hopefully continue to expose the problem of human trafficking in the Valley, as well as on a national and global scale.
ACTION INFO--Strength United is a comprehensive social service organization that operates through CSUN’s Michael D. Eisner College of Education. It provides 24/7 support and crisis intervention, along with long-term counseling, victim advocacy and prevention-education programs to individuals and families affected by domestic violence, sexual assault, child maltreatment and other crimes.
Compton’s STAR (Succeeding Through Achievement and Resilience) Court, which provides referrals to specialized services for underage victims of sex trafficking.
Journey Out works with survivors of human trafficking.
(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles-based writer and writes for CityWatch.)