Tuesday, June 28, 2016
Marin Civil Grand Jury calls attention to sex trafficking in new report
Authorities need to work together to crack down on a human sex trafficking problem in Marin that goes mostly unrecognized and underreported, according to the Marin County Civil Grand Jury.
In a new report — “Marin’s Hidden Sex Trafficking Challenge: It’s Happening In Our Backyard” — the panel found that sex trafficking occurs most often in San Rafael, Novato and Marin City.
The grand jury, citing federal law, defined human sex trafficking as the forcible prostitution of minors. However, the term has also been applied to adult victims who are forced, deceived or coerced into selling sex.
The grand jury, a branch of the local judiciary that researches public policy issues and monitors government performance, concluded there needs to be accurate data collection, public education and consistent law enforcement training.
“It is time for Marin to wake up and recognize the prevalence of human trafficking in our communities,” the grand jury reported. “The Grand Jury urges the county and its cities and towns to devote more resources to combating this scourge, rescuing its victims, and helping these victims return to society.”
Human sex trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world, second to drug trafficking, according to the report.
“Experts indicated in 2010 that there were at least 100,000 child victims of sex trafficking in the U.S., while upwards of 325,000 remain at risk,” the grand jury said.
A pimp can earn $150,000 to $200,000 per child annually, exploiting an average of four to six girls per year, according to some national reports.
Vulnerable victims include drug users, homeless youth, undocumented migrants and children who identify as lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender or questioning. More than 70 percent were reported to have been sexually abused prior to being trafficked, according to the grand jury.
Though comprehensive data on sex trafficking in Marin have not been compiled, the grand jury said the sex-trafficking circuit has come to include Marin because of its proximity to San Francisco, which is one of the nation’s known hubs for the crime. There are also wealthy johns, or clients, willing to pay cash, the grand jury reported.
Some Marin gangs have also incorporated sex trafficking into their repertoire because it is lucrative and there is a high demand.
“It takes place in almost all, if not all Marin hotels, including some of the more respected chains. Hotels and motels are the most common venues since they provide confidentiality for the ‘john,’” the grand jury reported, noting that massage parlors are also known for the crime.
Special task force
The county organized an informal part-time Human Trafficking Task Force to combat the issue. The group consists of a Street Crimes Unit officer from San Rafael, two county sheriff’s deputies and a probation officer. The ad hoc task force members conduct investigations in addition to regular duty and sometimes volunteer their time while off duty.
“I think for a county of our size, the collaborative approach is the best way to go,” said Marin Sheriff Bob Doyle, noting that the county is much different than an urban city such as San Francisco that has a dedicated human trafficking task force. “We have to prioritize things, and we don’t always have the luxury to be looking at these individually.”
Marin’s task force also executes a program called “Operation Cross Country,” an ongoing series of stings led by the FBI and the task force.
The Marin County District Attorney’s Office also established the Marin County Uniform Law Enforcement Protocol for Human Trafficking, a set of city- and town-approved protocols for identifying, responding to and investigating sex trafficking cases.
Novato police Lt. Mike Howard said the department has tried to get ahead of the effort, working with other agencies since the beginning.
“We wanted to partner with advocacy groups and law enforcement to develop an all-encompassing approach to responding to this,” he said.
The district attorney also helped to form the Marin County Coalition to End Human Trafficking, a 2014 partnership comprised of agencies, nonprofits and civic groups to educate the community and stop human trafficking.
‘Spot on’ report
“The grand jury report is spot on,” said Rosemary Slote, chief deputy district attorney and member of the coalition.
Slote said the coalition is building a website that has information on what services are available for victims, and data on how many cases there are in Marin.
“Certainly we all have more work to do in this area, and I think everybody acknowledges that,” she said.
The grand jury said the Canal area of San Rafael is of particular concern.
“Within San Rafael’s Canal District, human sex trafficking is common, and few residents of San Rafael are aware of it,” the grand jury said. “The Canal has a large population of migratory and often seasonal workers who have cash on hand. The availability of cash, paired with a large male population, has lured traffickers to set up apartments in the Canal where young girls are trafficked.”
A San Rafael Police Department spokesman could not be reached for comment.
June 27, 2016
Marin Independent Journal