A girl known as M.C. told U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier her pimp made $1,500 a night driving her from state to state selling her body. Once, she rode to Las Vegas in the trunk of her car.
It began when she was only 11, according to the published open letter Speier saw in the newspaper by M.C. and another human trafficking victim asking Craigslist to remove their adult services ads
“I couldn’t believe what I was reading,” said Speier whose desire to act was compounded by personally meeting another girl who said she had sex with as many as 14 men for her boyfriend-turned-pimp.
“I shivered at the thought that was going on to her or any young person in this country,” said Speier, D-San Mateo.
Speier joined a wide swath of law enforcement and officials Monday to announce a new San Mateo County protocol to combat human trafficking. The protocol grew out of the county’s 2011 Zero Tolerance Initiative and establishes concrete guidelines and standards for officers, dispatchers and other investigators and first responders so that there isn’t any question of how to handle victim calls or where to take them, said South San Francisco Police Chief Mike Massoni.
Human trafficking cases are particularly challenging to address because they take many forms, often are cloaked amid prostitution and pimping cases and the victims may not be immediately recognized as such. Specifically, the new protocol specifies that 911 dispatchers give a human trafficking call the same priority as other life-threatening incidents and directs officers to arrest suspected traffickers as felony cases and not be influenced by the alleged victim’s citizenship. Other aspects are instructing officers to arrange immediate medical treatment and transport, conduct training and handle child victims in non-leading, non-suggestive ways.
Just Monday, South San Francisco police announced a prostitution sting at an East Grand Avenue hotel on March 16 resulted in the arrest of 24-year-old Michael Pierce, of Citrus Heights. Pierce was not at the hotel where officers found a 17-year-old female and 18-year-old female who had posted escort ads online but was linked by the evidence to the sex operation. He was later found during a traffic stop trying to leave and charged with human trafficking, pimping an pandering charges. Investigators said Pierce befriended females on social networking sites and convinced them to prostitute themselves for his financial benefit. The minor was found to be a missing girl out of Santa Clara County who had walked away from a children’s shelter.
The battle to curb human trafficking has stepped up in recent years. California passed a law strengthening the punishment of those convicted of the crime and, in February, San Mateo County joined others statewide enacting a state law requiring informational posters in several establishments including airports, train stations, truck stops, emergency rooms and urgent care centers, farm labor contractors, massage parlors and adult stores. The multi-language fliers include information about trafficking and a hotline for the National Human Trafficking Resource Center and the California Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking.
Trainings have also been held locally for hospitality workers and personnel at San Francisco International Airport.
The Peninsula is particularly susceptible to human trafficking because of SFO, the surrounding hotels and the abundance of conventions, Speier said.
Training of SFO personnel and hospitality workers were held in past years specifically for that reason — they are often the first to encounter victims.
Nationwide, an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 domestic minors are trafficked annually, according to data from Speier’s office.
Specific county figures weren’t shared but Speier, Massoni and the others said the protocol’s goal is making the area less attractive.
“This county is not a place that welcomes sex traffickers,” Speier said.
While the assembled group shared what made San Mateo County unique for traffickers, they also lauded the efforts and resources that make it unique for recovery.
Freedom House, a Burlingame transitional housing facility for up to 14 total adult and child victims at a time, is one of only a handful such places in the nation and founder Jaida Im said she has yet to receive any government funding. But if the money was available she could open a dozen such houses, the need is that great, she added.
While the term “human trafficking” often brings to mind young men and women being sexually exploited, Massoni said the crime also includes indentured servitude which is just as critical to address and just as challenging because it, too, happens behind closed doors.
A key component is enlisting the public’s help.
“If you see something, say something,” said Brian Stretch of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
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