Samantha Weigel/Daily Journal
District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe speaks at a press conference outlining new countywide efforts to combat human trafficking.
The growing epidemic of human trafficking in San Mateo County is prompting law enforcement agencies to increase outreach, promote a victim hotline and provide specific training for hotel and motel employees and other workers.
The latest step is a commitment to informational posters aimed at victims and ensuring they are placed at locations where victims of this crime can see it and get the help they need.
“[Human trafficking] is modern-day slavery,” said District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe. “Law enforcement is uniformed in coming up with a concentrated effort to stop this.”
The District Attorney’s Office is committed to prosecuting those propagating human trafficking and it’s going a step further by ensuring specified establishments abide by new legislation to hang informational posters aimed at victims.
Senate Bill 1193 requires establishments including airports, train stations, truck stops, emergency rooms and urgent care centers, farm labor contractors, massage parlors, adult stores and bars to display fliers listing information about human trafficking and a hotline number for the National Human Trafficking Resource Center and the California Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking. SB 1193 requires the information to be posted in English, Spanish and another widely spoken language.
San Mateo County released its poster Tuesday and establishments who fail to display it will face a $500 fine on first notice and $1,000 subsequent citations, Wagstaffe said.
Sex workers are often exploited at a young age so it’s important for officers to shift their line of thinking and recognize many may be victims of human trafficking, said San Mateo Police Chief Susan Manheimer.
“One part of our effort is to really focus on who the victims are. Because you may see a hardened prostitute at 24 years old, but you may be seeing years and years of oftentimes forced slavery,” Manheimer said.
Many victims and sex workers are reluctant to work with police, so providing them with a hotline number will hopefully encourage them to come forward, Manheimer said.
Anyone who suspects human trafficking is also encouraged to call police or the numbers listed on the flier, Wagstaffe said.
Between 100,000 and 300,000 youth become victimized by sex trafficking rings in the country and California is no exception, said U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo.
“For the longest time, prostitution was looked upon as a victimless crime. But this is an insidious enslavement and in part it’s particularly appealing to a subculture of criminals that recognizes how valuable having young girls and boys are in the marketplace,” Speier said.
Sex trafficking is increasingly difficult to identify with the ability for traffickers to advertise online, so it’s important to educate those who may be coming into contact with victims and not even know it, Speier said.
South San Francisco, San Mateo and Foster City police departments have held special training workshops for hospitality industry employees to help them identify and report suspected trafficking, Manheimer said.
Making sure the public and law enforcement is equipped with information and resources is critical in reducing the presence of human trafficking in the county, Wagstaffe said.
“We’re hopeful this will save some girl, so many are isolated and don’t know where to call,” Wagstaffe said. “If it’s something that permeates the county, then again, we need to collaborate to stop it.”
If you or someone you know is being forced to engage in any activity and cannot leave call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at (888) 373-7888 or the California Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking at (888) 539-2373.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106