Addressing a growing need to combat local human labor and sex trafficking, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday, April 29, to set up a human-trafficking commission.
The commission will coordinate a range of government and community efforts to eliminate human trafficking. It will be charged with investigating the types and scope of human trafficking in the county; identifying policies, services and prevention for victims; working with county police departments and the sheriff's office to develop a coordinated response to sex and labor trafficking; creating a public-education campaign; collaborating with law enforcement and the District Attorney's Office to prosecute traffickers and developing training for law enforcement and public agencies, according to the proposal.
The San Jose Police Department and the South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking have worked with 300 victims or potential victims since 2003, the majority of which were subjected to forced labor, according to Ruth Silver Taube of Santa Clara University's Katharine & George Alexander Community Law Center. Those numbers are rising, she told the supervisors Tuesday.
"This is one of those problems that's been hidden in plain view," said Supervisor Cindy Chavez, who introduced the proposed commission. "This is an opportunity to lift the efforts up."
The U.S. State Department defines trafficking as the "act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion." Trafficking includes slavery, forced labor, debt bondage and commercial sexual exploitation. As many as 100,000 American children are trafficked each year, according to the State Department. Internationally, there are an estimated 20.9 million victims of human trafficking.
But it's also a pressing local problem: Most of the reporting calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline come from California, and the Bay Area is said to be a top destination point for trafficked victims. The Bay Area's major harbors and airports, robust industries, growing economy and large immigrant population make it an attractive place for human trafficking, Chavez said.
"Human trafficking denies many county residents basic human dignities and strains the county's safety net by increasing the need for law enforcement to combat the issue. Innovative solutions and improved collaboration between governmental entities and the community are sorely needed," she said.
The timing of the commission is critical, since grant money funding anti-human-trafficking work by the San Jose Police Department will end this summer. The commission will help coordinate efforts surrounding the 2016 Super Bowl, which, along with other large events and conventions, often attracts traffickers, Chavez said.