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.”