A file photo of a young sex worker in Southern California on Feb. 8, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
IRVINE, Calif.—To the right of a podium set for an Oct. 3 morning press briefing for the release of the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force’s (OCHTTF) 2023 report, a photo displaying a cage-like bed frame that once trapped victims sat on display as photographed evidence of sex trafficking in the county.
The briefing was held at the offices of Waymakers, a nonprofit that specializes in positive safety outcomes and support for children and families, according to their website.
This is the 8th Human Trafficking Victim Report issued by the task force and Waymakers, which is one of the co-founders of OCHTTF and serves as its administrator. Along with law enforcement and government officials, the nonprofit shared recent trends and updates regarding human trafficking throughout Orange County.
“One of the notable trends we have seen in the last few reports is an increase in the number of minors that are identified and involved in human trafficking,” Waymakers’ Program Director for Victim Assistance Programs Michelle Heater told The Epoch Times. “Part of [the reason for] those rescues I believe is helping to increase and raise awareness about human trafficking and sexual exploitation in order to help the community be a proactive partner.”
According to Ms. Heater, the report by OCHTTF and its partners found that 420 individuals were rescued from human trafficking in Orange County during the 2021–2022 period, the highest number of rescues to date. For 2019–2020, the number of victims assisted was 357.
- 372 were victims of sex trafficking
- 10 were victims of both labor and sex trafficking
- 38 were victims of labor trafficking
- 374 were female, 42 were males, and 4 were identified as being transgender
- 36 percent of victims were under the age of 18, a record increase from previous years
Ms. Heater encouraged others to get involved in educating schools and communities on the dangerous factors that contribute to human trafficking on a local level.
“It is not just the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force, but also every person within the Orange County community that can help assist ... [and] help educate not only teachers, educators, faculty, and schools but also equipping the community with the tools needed to help to identify both minor and adult victims of human trafficking,” she said.
The report also showed that recent offenders behind human trafficking crimes in Orange County had high percentages of violent criminal histories on their records.
Of those arrested, 72 percent of perpetrators have been arrested within the last 5 years for various crimes, while 37 percent of perpetrators have been arrested 10 or more times over the same time period.
Anaheim Police Department Chief of Police Rick Armendariz in Irvine, Calif., on Oct. 3, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
“These statistics help us understand what human trafficking victims are up against and highlight why we will continue to strengthen our partnerships and refine our strategies to stay one step ahead of these traffickers,” Anaheim Police Department Chief of Police Rick Armendariz said during the press briefing. “Human trafficking is a crime that knows no boundaries, has no age limit, and is blind to culture or religion.”
Representing the leading law enforcement agency of OCHTTF, the police chief extended gratitude to the other law enforcement partners involved in operations, including the Irvine and Santa Ana police departments, California Highway Patrol, the Orange County Probation Department, and Homeland Security Investigations.
“Our community faces a harsh reality of human trafficking, a crime that preys upon the most vulnerable victims,” Mr. Armendariz said. “This multidisciplinary collaborative approach to fighting human trafficking through protection, prevention, and prosecution is critical and could not be possible without these task force members.”
According to multiple representatives of OCHTTF, an increase in penalties for offenders will help combat the reach of human traffickers in Orange County.
Photographic evidence of human sex trafficking sits on the display at the release of the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force’s 2023 Human Trafficking Victim Report in Irvine, Calif., on Oct. 3, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
The passing of Senate Bill 14, which was approved
by California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sept. 24, will now add sex trafficking of a minor to the lists of crimes that are defined as “serious” under California law, making the crime a strike under the Three Strikes law.
The new legislation will also provide law enforcement and prosecuting professionals with more support, according to State Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), who co-sponsored
the bill, which goes into effect in January 2024.
“[The] pathway for the bill was anything but smooth, and it looked for a time as if the support public safety measures was victim to partisan politics, but in the end the cooler heads and common sense prevailed,” Mr. Newman told reporters at the press event. “SB 14, which will provide law enforcement and prosecutors an important set of new tools to all traffickers accountable while better deterring recurring criminal behavior and violent conduct.”
California consistently ranks number one in the nation for the number of human trafficking cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. The hotline can be reached at 888-373-7888.