The arches of the Golden Gate Bridge represent a kind of hope and promise that can only be found in the Bay Area. The diversity and natural beauty of the region are world renowned, and to a tourist, the Bay Area seems like a perfect pairing of culture and promise. However, the Bay Area can lay claim to one principle title without question; it is one of the capitals of human trafficking in the United States.
The Bay Area serves as a hotspot for trafficking due to its favorable location and world center. The abundance of travel sites such as SFO and Oakland airport, as well as major shipping docks and main highways serve as the perfect infrastructure for traffickers to transport their victims. This reputation is one that isn’t commonly recognized.
The cases of human trafficking in the Bay have risen drastically throughout the last ten years. According to the National Human Trafficking hotline, there were nearly 1,656 reported cases in 2018. Since 2007, there have been a total of 30,456 cases reported.
Technology has produced more avenues for traffickers to lure their victims and coordinate deals. Young girls can easily be taken advantage of if they are isolated or attach themselves to those they believe are trustworthy. Those already living in poverty or homelessness are more susceptible to being lured into trafficking for the promise of a better life.
Brian Wo, a spokesperson from the Bay Area Coalition Against Human Trafficking has firsthand experience with the victims of trafficking.
“Traffickers are experts at identifying the “lonely girl”, who doesn’t seem to have anyone who cares about them so they pretend to be that person,” he said.
According to a study done by Thorn, an organization dedicated to ending child abuse, 75 percent of underage sex trafficking victims said they had been advertised or sold online.
The scope of the illegal activity goes far beyond sex work. Labor trafficking is another common avenue that traffickers take part in, and is often harder to spot. An employee who lives in their place of work, works excessively long hours, and is in debt to their employer or not in control of their financials is being trafficked. Since 2007, the National Human Trafficking Hotline has received over 7,800 reports of labor trafficking.
“In those cases, it’s people who are offering false jobs to those who are very desperate,” said Woo.
The statistics remain lower than the actual reality because there is a fear around reporting one’s situation.
Major California legislation surrounding trafficking was first introduced in 2005 in Assembly Bill 22. This Bill established human trafficking as a felony and allowed victims to bring a case against their trafficker. Since that bill’s implementation, increased business regulations around trafficking have assisted in the prevention of the illegal activity.
Sharan Dhanoa, a spokesperson for the South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking, spoke about how to make profound change in the repetitive nature of the criminal justice system.
“A lot of them have really similar histories to some of the people they victimised, they have histories of abuse and trauma,” she said.
Her solution is to focus on making those traffickers healthy citizens once again through building them the economic and social means to not go back into the trafficking business.
“In an ideal world we would focus more intention on reintegration and root causes of criminal or harmful behavior,” Dhanoa added.
There are many red flags when it comes to spotting trafficking in the local community. Among peers, one can look after their friends and peers by spreading awareness about healthy relationships and appropriate online interactions.