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Strong Community Partnerships Can Curb One of L.A.’s Biggest Growth Industries, Human Trafficking 

OP ED: HUMAN TRAFFICKING - Law enforcement officials are warning that the upcoming Super Bowl will attract human traffickers to our region.

Human trafficking is a $150.2 billion a year industry and the fastest growing criminal activity in the world. January has been National Human Trafficking Prevention Month, a presidential recognition that more must be done to raise awareness and end this crime.  

Sadly, Los Angeles is a top point of entry into the United States for victims of trafficking. Our ports and airports, sprawling geography, large immigrant populations, and diverse industries attract forced labor and make it easier to hide and move victims. 

Human trafficking includes both forced labor and sex trafficking. It occurs throughout our region in factories and construction sites; in homes with domestic workers; in retail sites including hotels, restaurants, salons, and day spas; and at child and elder care facilities. 

Traffickers focus on the most vulnerable in our community:  racial and ethnic minorities, women and girls, LGBTQ individuals, migrants, and other historically marginalized people who are isolated from their families and social networks. 

Collaborative and Trauma Informed Solutions 

The Thai Community Development Center (Thai CDC) has been taking a comprehensive approach to fighting human trafficking.

Thai CDC works to free trafficked workers from their situations and provide food, shelter, medical care, legal counsel, and other services. They also mobilize and coordinate with other civil, immigrant and workers’ rights organizations to demand justice for victims.  

Thai CDC also plays a key role in bringing traffickers to justice. Trafficking victims are not ordinary witnesses to crimes. They are often immigrant workers from rural communities—isolated by language and cultural barriers, bewildered by the shock of relentless abuse and traumatic events—who are further isolated by their scheming traffickers from everything they know and trust. They are unaware of their legal standing and their rights as victims in the United States. Not unsurprising, they feel extremely vulnerable and trust no one. Were it not for the culturally sensitive care and restorative aid rendered by organizations like Thai CDC, it is highly unlikely that any trafficking victims would ever cooperate with law enforcement agencies in legal proceedings against their traffickers.  

In every step of the legal process, from apprehension to prosecution, community based organizations like Thai CDC provide law enforcement with vital links to the communities where the victims live and perpetrators operate. These links are the foundation for the “trauma-informed and victim-centered” approach to combatting trafficking that law enforcement agencies should adopt in order to increase their effectiveness while diminishing the toll that criminal prosecutions can take on cooperative victims. 

In our local government, the City Attorney’s office has a Sex and Labor Trafficking Unit (SALT) that is dedicated to fighting human trafficking. SALT facilitates trainings for LA City agencies and law enforcement to identify signs of human trafficking. It develops and administers victim services, and strengthens enforcement provisions for the LAPD. 

To hasten the end of human trafficking in Los Angeles, SALT and other law enforcement has been collaborating with Thai CDC, the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) and other local agencies to recognize key indicators of human trafficking and bring perpetrators to justice. 

By building these relationships, we can learn from victims and get better at detecting human trafficking. This will also make it harder for traffickers to hide. 

With leadership from our elected officials and support of trusted grassroots organizations, we can work together to improve the quality of life for everyone.

 

(Chanchanit Martorell is the Founder & Executive Director of the Thai Community Development Center, which received the Presidential Award for Extraordinary Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Persons on January 25, 2022.  Teddy Kapur is a candidate for Los Angeles City Attorney.)