By DAVID SCHOLZ
Human trafficking is not a problem limited to the grainy, dimly lit cable television news exposés in foreign lands or slick Hollywood dramas. It is in Contra Costa County’s backyard and it has been here for some time.
A report presented Feb. 12 to the county Board of Supervisors took the initial step toward shedding light on what is a highly overlooked and underreported problem.
The report’s findings expressed “the clandestine nature surrounding human trafficking inhibits local efforts to quantify the problem.’’
“Absolutely, it is often viewed as a problem in the big cities,’’ said Alex Madsen, Human Trafficking Coordinator with the Contra Costa County Zero Tolerance for Human Trafficking Coalition.
But, the reality is human trafficking is also a concern in smaller communities where it may tend to be overlooked.
“It is definitely happening in Martinez,’’ Madsen said.
Of 108 identified human trafficking victims in Contra Costa County between June 2014 and June 2015, all but one victim was involved in sex trafficking. Five victims were involved in labor trafficking. And all victims were female, including one transgender girl.
“We estimate that there are more human trafficking cases in Contra Costa County than this data reflects,’’ concluded the report’s authors.
While officials believe awareness and understanding about sex trafficking has increased in the county in the last decade, the same cannot be said about the plight of males who find themselves victims.
The report noted hotels and motels, as well as the streets, are the most common settings for trafficking behavior.
Another big myth when it comes to this topic is that the trafficking is just in the sex trade, but Madsen emphasized it is happening in labor circles too.
To that end, the report noted an increase in professionals who are partnering in the coalition in the past year. Coalition partners held 38 trainings with 635 attendees. The bulk being victim service providers, followed by representatives from schools and educational institutions.
Prosecutions, in turn, have been on the rise in the last several years as a result of greater scrutiny of the problem.
“Our commitment to investigate and prosecute human traffickers in Contra Costa County is unwavering,’’ said District Attorney Mark Peterson. “There is no room in our society for treating human beings like so much property that can be bought and sold.’’
As local authorities attempt to get their heads around this problem, the mobility of the victims makes it further difficult to inroad with those who are responsible.
“People are driven between cities, so that is why we have to get together and talk with each other in order to intervene,’’ said Madsen. “Jurisdictions are not collaborating and coordinating.”
“We need a safety net that can provide wrap-around services for the victims,’’ she added.
Recently awarded federal funding totaling $700,000 million will help strengthen a continuum of coordinated services in the coming year.
On a local level, citizens are encouraged to do their part by being conscientious consumers. This includes buying fair trade, slave free products when possible. Residents also are welcome to attend quarterly meetings of the Human Trafficking Coalition that are held at the Concord Police Department.
If suspicious incidents are seen, the public is encouraged to call 211 or the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.