Santa Clara County launches human trafficking public awareness campaign through VTA | News | Palo Alto Online |


Santa Clara County launches human trafficking public awareness campaign through VTA


Santa Clara County officials launched a campaign Tuesday calling on the public to be on the lookout for human trafficking victims.

"Human trafficking is a real scourge on our community, on our state and on our country. And it's the kind of crime that tends to hide in plain sight," District Attorney Jeff Rosen said during a news conference Tuesday outside sheriff's headquarters. (Read the Weekly's story, "Human trafficking reaches into Palo Alto, Silicon Valley")

The campaign will feature ads on Santa Clara Valley Transportation Agency buses, bus shelters and light-rail vehicles with images provided through the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.

The campaign will also feature a photo by Andrew "AJ" Wassell, a student at Valley Christian High School in San Jose, of a friend blindfolded by the American flag, Rosen said.

Wassell's piece, titled "Blinded," won first place out of more than 50 entries submitted in the district attorney's office "Justice For All" artwork contest against human trafficking, Rosen said.

Human trafficking is an issue that needs to be tackled in the U.S. first before it can be dealt with overseas, Wassell said.

The campaign comes ahead of 2016 Super Bowl at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara on Feb. 7 when large crowds are expected to attend the big game.

"These large events have a tragic consequence of attracting and increasing human trafficking," VTA general manager Nuria Fernandez said.

There are 1,880 county employees trained in identifying and reporting human trafficking incidents, nearly 900 of which are VTA workers, according to the county's Human Trafficking Commission.

"I'm really confident that with the county working together, we're going to find more victims in our area, we're going to help more people and we're going to stop people from abusing others," Supervisor Cindy Chavez said.

The training started in January with VTA bus operators and maintenance personnel who are the "frontline" throughout the county and interact with the public on a daily basis, Fernandez said.

In June, a new operator was able to stop a man who was allegedly abducting a 3-year-old boy. The operator was driving a bus from the Milpitas Public Library two weeks after participating in a training session, Fernandez said.

There are a variety of signs people should look for in spotting human trafficking victims, who tend to look nervous, controlled and have little interaction with the public, said Esther Peralez-Dieckmann, director of the county's Office of Women's Policy.

Victims can be restaurant workers, fruit sellers at a neighborhood street corner or young women who appear uncomfortable with men, Rosen said.

On Nov. 17, sheriff's deputies served search warrants at two Saratoga businesses, a restaurant and a salon, and arrested three people on suspicion of human trafficking, Sheriff Laurie Smith said.

Investigators rescued three human trafficking victims and three wage theft victims, according to the sheriff's office.

The county's human trafficking task force started its investigation into the case based on tips of human trafficking victims being brought from Spain, sheriff's officials said.

Many victims are brought to the U.S. from other countries, but a majority of them are domestic, Peralez-Dieckmann said.

People can watch an 11-minute video on the red flags of human trafficking from the Office of Women's Policy and the South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking here.

Anyone who is or sees a human trafficking victim is asked to contact the county's human trafficking task force at 408-918-4960 or

Tips can also be made through the National Human Trafficking Resource Center's anonymous human trafficking hotline by calling 888-373-7888 or texting HELP to 233733.

Related content:

Palo Alto looks to identify, combat human trafficking



Human trafficking is modern-day slavery.

The industries victims are in:

• Commercial sex

• Domestic services (nannies, servants, housekeepers)

• Manufacturing

• Construction

• Farming and landscaping

• Fisheries

• Lodging and tourism

• Massage and beauty services

• Janitorial services

• Food service

• Street vending (fruit, flowers, souvenirs)

How to identify victims:

• The person is accompanied by another person who seems controlling

• The person pretends to be a student or tourist but is not

• The person is rarely allowed or seen in public, except for work

• The person may seem afraid or may have signs of physical or psychological abuse

• The person seems submissive or fearful

• The person lacks identification or documentation

• Someone else holds the person's pay or money

• The person, especially a prostitute, seems under age

• The person is working long hours with no bathroom or food breaks

• The person is picked up by a van with others at the end of the long day

• The person appears to be living with other persons in the back of the business, and the door is locked

Questions to ask a person you suspect is being trafficked

• Can you leave your job or situation if you want?

• Can you come and go as you please?

• Have you been threatened if you try to leave?

• Has anyone threatened your family?

• What are your working or living conditions like?

• Where do you sleep and eat?

• Do you have to ask permission to eat, sleep or go to the bathroom?

• Is there a lock on your door so you cannot get out?

• Does someone prohibit you from socializing or attending religious services?

Note: Before questioning a person who may be a victim of human trafficking, discretely separate the person from the individual accompanying him or her. The trafficker could be posing as a spouse, family member or employer.

Understanding the trafficked victim

• Many victims do not speak English and do not understand American culture

• Some victims do not know what city or country they are in because they are force to move often

• Most victims have a strong feeling of distrust because they fear deportation or incarceration

• Many victims do not see themselves as victims and do not realize that what is being done to them is wrong

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Asian Americans for Community Involvement, Domestic Violence Advocacy Consortium Santa Clara County, Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office Human Trafficking Task Force


All calls are confidential

• Local police department, 911

• Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office Human Trafficking Task Force, 408-918-4960

• AACI Asian Women's Home (Languages: English, Vietnamese, Chinese and other Asian), 408-975-2739 (24-hour hotline)

• Freedom House (in San Mateo County), 650-488-0831

• The Katharine and George Alexander Community Law Center (at Santa Clara University), 408-288-7030

• MAITRI (Languages: English, South Asia, including Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Fiji Islands), 888-862-4874

• National Human Trafficking Hotline, 888-373-7888

• Next Door Solutions to Domestic Violence (Languages: English, Spanish, Vietnamese), 408-279-2962

• YMCA Silicon Valley Domestic Violence Department Support Network Program (Languages: English and Spanish), 800-572-2782 (24-hour)

Information resources

Bay Area Anti-Trafficking Coalition,

Counseling and Support Services for Youth,

Cross Bay Collaborative,

Polaris Project,

South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking,

Calculate Your Slavery Footprint,

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Asian Americans for Community Involvement, Domestic Violence Advocacy Consortium Santa Clara County, Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office Human Trafficking Task Force

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Like this comment
Posted by mark weiss
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 3, 2015 at 1:46 pm

I'm no expert but one of remedials here might be the "self-driving car"

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Fairmeadow

on Dec 3, 2015 at 4:07 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

Like this comment
Posted by Jody Williams
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 9, 2015 at 9:12 am

I have followed these types of campaigns for 30 years and they are a complete waste of money. It's not how you reach these victims. I should know how as I've been doing it for 30 years effectively.

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