LOS ANGELES (CNS) - In conjunction with United Nations World Day Against Trafficking Persons, Los Angeles city officials and a local nonprofit announced today a stepped-up effort to publicly post hotline numbers aimed at assisting victims of human trafficking.
“When a victim doesn't know who to call, simply seeing a poster with the right numbers (can) give them a little window of escape,” City Councilwoman Nury Martinez said. “These posters help save lives.”
A state law passed in 2012 requires select businesses where trafficking victims might be more prevalent -- strip clubs, massage parlors, emergency rooms, bars, etc. -- to display a poster with a human trafficking hotline number.
According to city officials and organizations involved in the effort, calls regarding possible human trafficking increased by 1,000% between 2013 and 2017.
It was not immediately clear how many of those calls resulted in arrests or convictions, but City Attorney Mike Feuer said his office has been looking to provide resources -- not prosecution -- to human trafficking victims, who otherwise may have been booked for sex solicitation.
“We want to be sure that every single adult who might witness human trafficking or have a sense that it's occurring to call in,” Feuer said. “We also need to be sure that if people and businesses are flouting the requirement of posting these signs that they be held accountable.”
The hotline number emblazoned on the posters is 1-888-539-2373. A national hotline is available at 888-373-7888.
The National Council of Jewish Women Los Angeles had been leading an outreach effort for the past five years, visiting establishments affected by the law and hanging posters. That outreach effort -- now known as the Human Trafficking Posting Project -- was taken over earlier this year by the nonprofit organization Journey Out, which is dedicated to assisting trafficking victims transition to normal lives.
Stephany Powell, director of Journey Out, said the awareness and visibility of human trafficking reporting information is critical to the poster project's success.
“The signs must become commonplace,” Powell said. “Seeing the signs and reporting suspicious behavior will help to recover victims, identify exploiters and stop trafficking. If we don't prioritize the posters in these locations, then the problem will never go away.”
Martinez introduced a motion today calling for the city develop enforcement strategies to ensure businesses are adhering to the law. The NCJW issued a report in March saying that while compliance has increased in the city, stronger local enforcement mechanisms are needed.
A state law signed into law this month increases cities' enforcement abilities, officals said.
“We hope that businesses will voluntarily comply, but we are prepared to secure compliance through other legal means, if necessary,” Martinez said.
Journey Out will host an outreach event on Aug. 31 in the Van Nuys area.
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