OC Officials Tout Human Trafficking Crackdown

SANTA ANA (CNS) - Orange County officials today touted an annual report on human trafficking that they say shows how their coordinated attack on the problem has borne fruit with the number of victims being helped on the rise.

The Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force, which includes local law enforcement and nonprofit social service agencies, helped 415 victims from 2017 through last year, officials said in an annual report released today.

The number of victims of labor trafficking was 48, 359 were sex trafficking victims, and six were victims of both. Two fell into a category of unknown.

Of that total, 17 percent were foreign nationals and the rest U.S. citizens. The task force saw 302 new victims in that time span. Of those, 12 percent were victims of labor trafficking and 87 percent sex trafficking. Of the new victims, 27 percent were children.

Another trend officials are seeing is a rise in the number of referrals outside of law enforcement. Lita Mercado, director of nonprofit Waymakers' victim assistance programs, said 57 percent of referrals last year came from a combination of sources outside of police that included calls to a hotline, victims asking for help on their own and family and friends sending them in for assistance.

The human traffickers brag that ``they can make more money here than in surrounding counties,'' Mercado said at a news conference.

Anaheim Police Chief Jorge Cisneros said the task force used a number of sting operations throughout the county last year ``with great success'' to ``attack demand'' by focusing on arresting customers of prostitution.

The Diocese of Orange and other organizations have been educating men's groups in the area about the perils of paying for prostitution, Cisneros said. The task force also has ads up at John Wayne Airport, he added.

``We have had to shift our paradigm,'' Cisernos said.

Instead of having victims questioned in police interrogation rooms, for instance, they are now interviewed in a room designed by victims to be ``more soothing,'' Cisneros said.

Also, victims were often given motel vouchers, but since those are often where prostitution is done the task force has acquired a house to be used for sheltering victims, Cisneros said.

Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer praised the task force for taking a more progressive view of issues related to prostitution and focusing more on pimps. He recalled as a prosecutor in the 1990s he would often see a ``cage full of women being prosecuted for prostitution'' in courtrooms.

``We have come so far in our thinking that these perpetrators are actually victims,'' Spitzer said. ``The ones who we're prosecuting are the ones who are chaining these young men and women ... and for psychologically torturing this population.''

The District Attorney's Office has prosecuted 504 cases of human trafficking since 2012, Spitzer said.

``Just this last year we had 169 convictions,'' Spitzer said.

Spitzer dared pimps to set up shop in Orange County.

``We're going to stalk you like you stalk your victims,'' Spitzer said. ``I'm confident that our law enforcement team will be successful in what we've been doing, which is to send you to prison for many, many years... So, come on, bring it on because we will prosecute you. We're not going to tolerate this in our county.''

Photo: Getty Images

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