Richmond event educates community on human trafficking

Human trafficking prevention poster on display at Jerry's Cocktail Lounge in Richmond. Photo by Angeline Bernabe.

Human trafficking prevention poster on display at Jerry's Cocktail Lounge in Richmond. Photo by Angeline Bernabe.

Law enforcement, city officials and community members came together in a packed room at the Richmond Family Justice Center last week for a “Day of Action” to raise awareness about human trafficking.

The event, the second of its kind in Contra Costa County this year, was held to implement and enforce Senate Bill 1193, which aims to combat human trafficking in the state of California.

“‘Day of Action’ allows us to bring community members together,” said Contra Costa County Deputy District Attorney Dana Filkowski. It’s an opportunity for the community talk “about what human trafficking is, what it looks like and where it is,” she said.

Human trafficking is “a form of modern slavery,” according to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, and “a multi-billion dollar criminal industry.” Traffickers recruit and transport people through abduction and abuse, using them for forced labor—or other purposes.

In Contra Costa County, human trafficking appears in two forms: labor traffickers use violence or lies to lure people into working in deplorable conditions in sectors such as the hospitality industry, and sex traffickers use violence to force adults—and in some cases children—to perform sexual acts against their will.

Police Sergeant M. Stonebraker, who works for the Richmond Police Department’s Domestic and Sexual Violence Unit, said it’s possible to identify victims of human trafficking on the street by what they’re wearing. If it’s cold and someone is wearing provocative or little clothing, he said, it’s possible the trafficker is nearby.

Approximately 21 million people worldwide are involved in human trafficking and 15 million are involved in labor trafficking, said Contra Costa County District Attorney Mark Peterson.  Although specific figures are unavailable for Contra Costa County, Peterson said it’s a “huge” issue locally, too.

SB 1193, which took effect in 2013, requires that certain locations in the state—including restaurants with a liquor license, airports, train and bus stations, and emergency rooms—post notices or signs that provide the hotline number for the National Human Trafficking Resource Center and, in three different languages, what human trafficking witnesses can do to report it.

So far, SB1193 has been “kind of an ignored law” at the county level, Peterson said.  “We’re just getting our hands around it.”

Peterson and Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley have been attempting to do just that through activities like last week’s Day of Action. The hope, said Filkowski, is that teaching people about trafficking “will have a ripple effect” throughout the community.

Last week’s forum also presented “Map 1193,” an app to encourage community members to help identify businesses that have—or haven’t—complied with the law.  App users click on businesses in the app’s map system to indicate whether a business does—or doesn’t—have the required signs in place.

“Our front line of defense is our community members and our citizens,” said Human Trafficking Coalition Project Coordinator Alex Madsen. “They are often the ones that are first to notice when something doesn’t feel right or doesn’t look right.”

Thursday’s event was a partnership with Contra Costa County’s Family Justice Center, the Alameda District Attorney’s Office’s H.E.A.T. Watch initiative and the Contra Costa County Zero Tolerance for Human Trafficking Coalition—an initiative to prevent and address the effects of domestic violence, abuse and human trafficking.

Sergeant Stonebraker, who has been working collaboratively with the community to combat human trafficking at the Richmond Family Justice Center, said that anyone can play a role in stopping human trafficking.

“Pay attention to your surroundings,” he said, “and when you see something, act on it.”

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