Human Trafficking Blight in San Francisco Bay Area

The Bay Area prides itself on its progressive politics, forward-looking culture and concern for human rights around the globe. So why is this one of America’s top markets for human trafficking?

The Bay Area has become a magnet for such exploitation. It’s a diverse, affluent area. It’s a global hub for travel – both business and leisure – and well-connected to communities all over the world, thanks to the large number of immigrants who live here. The freewheeling culture may be one of the factors in why such exploitation goes undetected. There is general laissez-faire attitude toward the activities in massage parlors and other adult-oriented establishments that human traffickers can use to their advantage.

Sexual trafficking happens in homes, airport hotel rooms and the massage parlors that have mushroomed all over Bay Area downtowns. Labor trafficking happens in restaurants, nail salons, child care facilities, in the construction industry and in rackets for drug sales. In both instances, you’ve probably seen a victim and just didn’t know it. “Getting the tools to fight this is not our challenge,” said U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California Melinda Haag, who is based in San Francisco. “Awareness is our challenge. We have to get people to understand how this works and what it looks like.”

“We’ve worked really hard to improve our processes around prosecuting this,” Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said, and indeed her office is considered to be a national leader for its success against human traffickers. “But it’s a difficult crime to prosecute. Our laws around demand are terrible. It’s looked at like a nuisance crime. And on the other side of it, the psychological hold traffickers have over victims is incredible.”There’s no reason why the Bay Area can’t be a global leader in the fight against human trafficking. On a state level, we need to get rid of the legislation that has allowed massage parlors to operate with impunity in our communities. We need mandated medical reporting, so that people who are on the front lines know how to recognize trafficking victims and can urge them to get help. On a local level, we need better data, transitional housing, 24-hour hotlines, better regional coordination, and vigilant, educated communities.We need to shed the delusion that human exploitation is something that only happens far, far away.

Learn more at the San Francisco Gate article: Human trafficking a blight in progressive Bay Area.
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