Sunday, June 26, 2016
Contra Costa: Underage human trafficking victims being housed in juvenile hall, grand jury says
Underage human trafficking victims are sometimes housed in juvenile detention centers because of Contra Costa County's lack of available victim housing, a county civil grand jury found.
The report also highlighted other gaps in the county's system for providing services to underage victims of sex trafficking, and it recommended more training for county staff; building a centralized county database on human trafficking that can be shared between victim-assistance agencies and law enforcement; and providing additional funds for a resource center dedicated to helping and housing minors who have been trafficked.
Grand jurors studied Contra Costa human trafficking statistics during a 12-month period ending in June 2015. During that time, the report says, "at least 108" victims of human trafficking were identified by law enforcement. Of those, 39 were minors who were being exploited by commercial sex trafficking.
The county has one facility with just six beds available for underage human trafficking victims, deputy district attorney Aron DeFerrari said.
"The unfortunate reality is, with the exception of those six beds, there really isn't a transitional facility or facility designed to handle human trafficking victims, who suffer from typical problems human trafficking victims have," DeFerrari said. "They're usually in need of psychological counseling, education and substance-abuse treatment. It's hard to find a place where they can get all three of those things that's not a locked facility."
The 13-page grand jury report, released last month, says various police agencies in the county will sometimes book underage suspected victims of sex trafficking into juvenile hall as a "pragmatic measure," either when they commit crimes not related to prostitution, or when no other housing within the county is available to them.
"Such bookings allow authorities to keep (sex trafficking victims) under protective custody, away from their exploiters," the report says. "It also provides probation and Community Violence Solutions (a local interfaith group dedicated to combating trafficking and sexual violence) time to assess the situation and to give these youth access to therapy and social services."
But the grand jurors also observed, "Placing the child in juvenile hall on a criminal charge runs the risk of exposing the child to criminal behavior. Once in juvenile hall, most victims of (sex trafficking) are uncooperative and ultimately released back to their next of kin, where they will likely walk back to their exploiters."
County Administrator David Twa is preparing an official response to the grand jury's report, according to county Supervisor Federal Glover's office. Glover declined to comment on the report through his chief of staff, Ed Diokno.
Community Violence Solutions Director Cynthia Peterson called the revelations in the report "awful" and "not the best option for young victims of sex exploitation."
"But sometimes, it's the best option available," she said. "We need more resources for victims of human trafficking, especially for youth. It's all about funding ... I think there's nothing established within Contra Costa County to address the issue fully."
Under state law, all minors arrested on suspicion of prostitution are considered victims of human trafficking. When they're identified in Contra Costa County, it kicks into gear a series of policies within law enforcement and community-based agencies that were implemented in 2015.
The most common outcome is that the victims are returned to their families and provided assistance. In many cases, underage victims will agree to testify against their traffickers, resulting in criminal cases.
But the report also found that by March, many police agencies, victims advocates in the District Attorney's Office and juvenile hall and other agencies "were unaware of their part in the protocol and the role of the other agencies."
In Alameda County, sex trafficking victims are sometimes housed in juvenile hall when they commit other crimes, Sheriff's Sgt. Ray Kelly said. He described the practice as a rare "diversion" tactic.
"They do use custody to keep these kids safe so they don't run away again, and they don't get exploited again or taken away by a pimp," Kelly said. "There's a method to the madness."
Still, Kelly said, Alameda County has numerous halfway houses, community-based nonprofits and other nongovernmental agencies dedicated to fighting human trafficking.
Contra Costa, by contrast, has a few effective but relatively small groups, including Community Violence Solutions, the Contra Costa County Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence Initiative and the Employment & Human Services Department, which offer support services for trafficking victims.
"We welcome more community-based organizations and nonprofits in terms of supporting human trafficking victims," DeFerrari said. "Law enforcement can't do it all; we need their support. Frankly, they're already critical support pieces."
June 25, 2016
East Bay Times
By Nate Garrtrell