Officials discuss human trafficking
Law enforcement officials on the frontline in the fight to stop the sexual exploitation of young people took time Thursday to recognize the national day set up in support of that ongoing effort.
National Human Trafficking Awareness Day was observed across the country Thursday, but for officers working to stop it from happening, the fight is everywhere, every day, including the Santa Clarita Valley.
“For us, it’s a daily effort,” Captain Chris Marks, who runs the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department’s Human Trafficking Bureau, told The Signal Thursday.
“As far as our proactive nature in combating sex trafficking, we try every day to identify the offenders,” he said.
Marks said human trafficking is “proliferating” in communities like the Santa Clarita Valley, and particularly with the use of the internet.
“We appreciate the national recognition because what we need to do is bring more education to the public,” he said. “That is sorely needed.”
Last month, the Domestic Highway Enforcement Team made significant inroads in the battle to stop human trafficking in the SCV.
In November, an SCV group called Saving Innocence invited the public to attend its information meeting and were pleasantly surprised to witness a response organizers called overwhelming.
In October, a police crackdown on the sex trade -- although national in scope -- saw arrests made in the SCV.
Operation Cross Country was the third sting operation carried out in the SCV in seven months, bringing to 10 the number of men arrested locally for arranging to meet a minor for sex since March
“People should know that by chatting (online) or dating, whether they know it or not, are facilitating these (human trafficking) transactions,” Marks said.
In the sting operations carried out across the Santa Clarita Valley by human trafficking detectives post online advertisements offering sex with girls aged 14 and 16. The sting has resulted in the regular arrest last year of SCV men who responded to the ads.
On Thursday, county officials including probation officers rallied behind the ongoing cause.
The Los Angeles County Probation Department, following the lead of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, announced Thursday it was recognizing National Human Trafficking Awareness Day on January 11 and that it continues to be at the forefront in the fight against the commercial sexual exploitation of youth and young adults.
Los Angeles County is one of the nation’s major hubs for sex trafficking— specifically children. In January 2012, the Probation Department answered the call to duty in the fight against the illicit sex trade by creating the Child Trafficking Unit, focusing Probation’s efforts and resources on providing rehabilitative services to the victims of these crimes.
The CTU is a collaborative effort between probation and the courts to address the “unique needs” of this population, and supports a myriad of countywide efforts and Board of Supervisors’ priorities to confront human sex-trafficking.
Since 2012, the unit’s Director Michelle Guymon has worked on numerous programs, trainings, and initiatives aimed at assisting Commercially Sexually Exploited Children with getting out of “the life.”
Changing the public’s mindset to understand that sex-trafficked youth are victims in need of help, not criminals in need of punishment, was critical, according to Guymon.
“Shifting our thinking around commercially sexually exploited children as victims of child abuse rather than criminalizing them as delinquents has been an enormous first step,” Guymon said Thursday.
“I am also very honored to work alongside some amazing Deputy Probation Officers who give of themselves every day to ensure that our youth know just how important they are, and that they are receiving the services and supports they need to heal.”
Since its inception, the CTU has identified over 1,200 victims of sextrafficking and provided supervision to over 525 Commercially Sexually Exploited Children.
The Los Angeles County Probation Department continues to be a national leader in the fight to help save these young victims.
Specially trained CSEC coordinators present within the juvenile halls and camps have proven to be vital assets in providing services to youth in custody who have been identified as CSEC victims.
In addition, with the implementation of California Senate Bills 794 and 855, the Probation Department will now have screening tools to identify at-risk youth who may be victims of sex-trafficking, report suspected CSEC to a child protection hotline, and conduct additional CSEC trainings. These bills also provide for more expeditious searches for youth who are reported as missing.
“CSEC victims often talk about how important their probation officers are in their lives, how they’ve made a difference in helping them heal, and how excited they are to be moving forward with a life without abuse and exploitation,” said Los Angeles County Probation Chief Terri L. McDonald. “I am extremely proud of these Probation staff who give of themselves tirelessly, show up day or night in times of crisis, sit with youth in the courtroom as they testify against their exploiter, attend high school graduations, and ensure birthdays are celebrated. Their work is truly awe inspiring.”
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Human Trafficking Task Force prepares to enter a massage parlor on the 18400 block of Soledad Canyon Road in September.