It seems that no other topic grabbed the attention of California prosecutors, law enforcement, and the legislature in 2016 like the tragic subject of human trafficking. No less than 24 bills related to human trafficking were introduced in the state legislature last year.
Unfortunately, San Luis Obispo County is not immune to the heartbreak of human trafficking. Recognizing the importance and scope of the problem, the County Human Trafficking Task Force was hard at work battling the problem.
Among law enforcement agencies, human trafficking is considered a modern-day form of slavery and includes both sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Unfortunately, San Luis Obispo County is a natural corridor for human trafficking activities between San Diego/Los Angeles and San Francisco, according to the County District Attorney’s Office, and has also been the scene of human trafficking activities originating in the California Central Valley.
“The fact that our County is a tourist destination with a large number of hotels contributes to an environment conducive to sex trafficking, while the agricultural nature of the County makes it prone to labor trafficking,” said County Assistant District Attorney Lee Cunningham.
California has been identified by the FBI as one of the nation’s Top 4 destination states for human trafficking and its victims. One of the most detailed studies of sex trafficking was conducted and published in 2016 by Point Loma Nazarene University and the University of San Diego. It looked specifically at the nature and extent of gang involvement in sex trafficking in San Diego County.
The study concluded that human trafficking sex victims were primarily American, with an average age of entry into the sex trade of 16. It was estimated to be an $810 million business in San Diego County in 2013.
Efforts in 2016 to Reduce Human Trafficking in SLO County
The County District Attorney’s office successfully tried and obtained convictions of two human traffickers – Richard Brooks and Oscar Higueros. Brooks was sentenced to 61 years, eight months in state prison, while Higueros was sentenced to 167 years, eight months, plus 15 years to life in state prison. As of this report, the trafficking case of People v. Anaya & Morales is currently pending trial in San Luis Obispo Superior Court.
The County Human Trafficking Task Force began the year with the County Board of Supervisors, which proclaimed January 2016 as “Human Trafficking Awareness Month” in SLO County.
In early 2016, the task force’s Legislation Committee drafted a proposal to require a “tiered” sex offender registration of sex purchasers who have been convicted of Penal Code § 647(b) (prostitution) when they knew, or should have known, that the other participant was a minor victim of human trafficking.
Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian authored the bill, AB 1912, which unfortunately failed committee passage. A more comprehensive “tiered” sex offender registration plan is likely to be introduced in a future legislative session, and County Human Trafficking Task Force aims to make the AB 1912 plan a part of that effort.
Task force officials hope to reduce the demand for sex purchasing as public awareness of sex purchasers who knowingly exploit minor trafficking victims increases.
Also in 2016, task force members participated in one of several regional H.E.A.T.Watch summits held in California. H.E.A.T.Watch is a research institute, founded by Alameda District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, seeking to accurately gauge the scope and nature of human trafficking in California and identify “best practices” in dealing with the problem. Members of the County of San Luis Obispo’s Human Trafficking Task Force presented at the February 2016 summit held in Fresno.
About the SLO County Human Trafficking Task Force
County District Attorney Dan Dow was instrumental in creating the County Human Trafficking Task Force in January 2015 with a mission to:
- Prevent and combat human trafficking through education;
- Protect and assist victims with full respect for their human rights through identification;
- Promote cooperation among law enforcement and community organizations by allocating resources to meet these objectives.
To further this mission, the task force formed six standing committees:
- Funding/Data Collection
- Law Enforcement
- Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (this was an existing group that merged with the County’s task force in 2016).
The task force continues to educate and train others about human trafficking crimes, wherever and whenever requested. At the same time, its Housing Committee continues to grapple with the urgent need for adequate emergency and short-term housing for human trafficking victims.
The County Human Trafficking Task Force is hosted and chaired by the District Attorney’s office. The diverse group, made up of both public and private agencies and organizations, meets monthly. A variety of organizations have representatives on the task force, including:
- County Probation Department
- County Parks & Recreation
- Cuesta College and Cal Poly police departments
- County Office of Education
- County Department of Social Services
- County Public Health Department
- County Behavioral Health Department
- County District Attorney’s office
- County Sheriff’s Office
- California Highway Patrol
- State Parole
- Juvenile Justice Commission
- Department of Homeland Security
- French Hospital
- Paso Robles schools
- Community Health Centers
- numerous non-profit groups, such as RISE, Central Coast Freedom Network, North County Abolitionists, the Women’s Shelter, Community Action Partnership, Runaway Girl, Central Coast Dream Center, Cal Poly Safer, and Cal Poly Health Services.
If you are interested in displaying a human trafficking poster, please contact the District Attorney’s Victim/Witness Director Diana McPartlan at (805) 781-5821.
To receive assistance or report a suspected instance of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 or text BeFree (233733). You may also contact your local law enforcement, call Crime Stoppers at 544-STOP, or text SLOTIPS plus your message to Crimes (274637).