Sunday, July 31, 2016

Contra Costa administrator: Underage sex trafficking victims not housed in juvenile hall

MARTINEZ -- Contra Costa County officials this week pushed back against a civil grand jury report that found underage sex trafficking victims are occasionally housed in juvenile hall because of a lack of transitional housing in the county.
The report, released in May, criticized nearly every aspect of the county's handling of underage sex trafficking cases; it found that not enough law enforcement officials were trained to properly handle victims, that the District Attorney's Office prosecuted fewer human trafficking cases in 2015 than in previous years; and that children exploited by the sex trade are sometimes housed in juvenile hall "as a pragmatic measure," and to keep them "away from their exploiters."
But in his official rebuttal to the report, approved unanimously by the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, County Administrator David Twa denied the finding related to housing exploited children in juvenile hall and disagreed with the grand jury's recommendation that a transitional home for trafficking victims be built in the county. In disagreeing with the jury's findings, Twa acknowledged that sometimes human trafficking victims commit other crimes, and are inadvertently arrested and taken to juvenile hall, then later discovered to be sex workers.
"At that point, it'll be determined that that person is actually a victim of sexual exploitation, and then they are dealt with accordingly, so they are not just brought to juvenile hall as a result of being a victim," Twa said.
But the county's leading prosecutor, Aron DeFerrari, said in June he could think of "once or twice" that a victim of human trafficking was held in juvenile hall until "some type of placement" could be found. He called the tactic "really rare," and added, "Given the pros and the cons -- the cons being putting that juvenile back in danger or jeopardy -- I think it makes sense for them to spend a short time in juvenile hall."
But he agreed with Twa that any minor found to be a sex worker is treated as a victim, as a matter of policy.
"To my knowledge, no police agencies are arresting minors for prostitution in this county and taking them to juvenile hall for the crime of prostitution," DeFerrari said.
In recent years, the county has formed an anti-human trafficking coalition and launched an ad campaign designed to remove the "prostitute" label from minors in the sex trade, who can't legally consent and are automatically considered victims under state law. But the rate of sex-trafficking victims who come forward to testify remains low, and many end up back with their pimps even when they're released to their families.
"(Underage sex trafficking victims) run away, I've even seen one cut through a GPS ankle bracelet and go back to her pimp," said Elizabeth Harrigan, who oversees juvenile cases at the Public Defender's Office. She later added, "What they need is to build a facility somewhere outside of a city where it's closed off."
Devorah Levine, chairwoman of the county's Zero Tolerance for Human Trafficking Coalition, told the board Tuesday that no funding exists to build such a housing center, pointing out that housing is one of the most costly items facing those tasked with stopping human trafficking. Twa's rebuttal to the grand jury report says that no federal or state funding exists for a new transitional housing facility, and argued that such housing is not an "optimal choice" compared with reuniting sex trafficking victims with their families.
July 21, 2016
East Bay Times
By Nate Gartrell

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