Homeland Security and Public Safety

Human Trafficking Amid a Full Plate of Hazards for California Emergency Services

California has set up nine human trafficking task forces to rescue victims and help prosecute the perpetrators.

California has more than its share of hazards, including earthquakes, mudslides, floods and of course, the current drought. But that doesn’t stop officials from taking on another fight — human trafficking.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris called human trafficking the world’s fastest-growing criminal enterprise, a $32-million-a-year industry. And California, a border state with a large immigrant population, is one of the top destinations for trafficking humans, whether it’s for sex exploitation, labor, debt bondage, involuntary servitude or drugs.

“Human trafficking is becoming a well-understood threat in California,” said Mark Ghilarducci, California’s homeland security adviser and director of the state’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES). “We’re a border state with Mexico, our highway system is a pipeline to moving people who are being trafficked to the middle of the country though our highway corridors, whether for narcotics reasons or sex trafficking.”

Human trafficking often involves the use of force, fraud and coercion to recruit mostly women and young children but also teens and men. California has set up nine human trafficking task forces to rescue victims and help prosecute the perpetrators. Cal OES is spending more than $5 million through its task forces to fight the crimes.

The task forces coordinate information and resources with state and federal law enforcement agencies and victims’ service providers, and help develop training for those agencies. The task forces also help develop protocols and manuals for responding to human trafficking cases and identifying and rescuing victims.

“We have task forces all around the state that are very tactical that we support and are engaged with,” Ghilarducci said. “And we’re working closely with the U.S. attorney in the various districts in California and our local law enforcement to really focus on this whole human trafficking situation; increased awareness, interdiction and then enforcement.”

California also has State Threat Assessment Centers that work with law enforcement and other agencies to help fight trafficking. It is thought that more than 20 million people worldwide are victims of human trafficking, and between 14,500 and 17,500 are trafficked into the United States.

Jim McKay  |  Editor

Jim McKay is the editor of Emergency Management. He lives in Orangevale, Calif., with his wife, Christie, daughter, Ellie, and son, Ronan. He relaxes by fly fishing on the Truckee River for big, wild trout. Jim can be reached at jmckay@emergencymgmt.com.