It’s easy to think about human trafficking as something that would only occur in far-off countries, but it’s also happening right here in our communities.
Earlier this year, Project Concern International (PCI) worked with a law enforcement task force and other local nonprofits to help fight human trafficking in California. Operation Reclaim and Rebuild used fake online ads for sex as part of a sting targeting the demand side of trafficking.
“When these men showed up at a hotel expecting to buy a person for their own sexual gratification, they got a big surprise,” said San Diego County’s Chief Deputy District Attorney Summer Stephan. “Instead they were greeted by police, arrested, and booked in jail.”
While the fight against human trafficking has often targeted sellers rather than buyers, this operation took the opposite approach. Its primary goal was to rescue victims of sexual slavery and human trafficking, provide them with much-needed services, identify and arrest their captors, seek successful prosecutions, and disrupt the demand for vulnerable victims by targeting their customers.
The three-day statewide operation resulted in “28 commercially, sexually-exploited children and 27 adult victims being recovered; 142 males arrested for the charge of solicitation; and 36 males arrested for pimping,” according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.” A total of 474 arrests were made across the state.
Nonprofit, community-based organizations partnering with law enforcement were a key part of helping this operation succeed. PCI provided the human trafficking task force with the tools to post fake ads on an online forum where individuals looking for illegal commercial sex with minors can find their victims.
“Like how it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to stop human trafficking,” said former Task Force Commander Danny Santiago. “We wouldn’t have been as successful in this operation without the mechanism PCI provided to post the ads.”
The Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition and North County Lifeline also provided vital services to the victims that were rescued.
The fight against trafficking depends on organizations and law enforcement working together on prevention, partnership, prosecution, and protection. PCI has spent years focusing on the prevention and partnership components of human trafficking by creating programs that aim to stop sellers from becoming sellers, stop trafficking, and stop buyers – both domestically and abroad.
“This operation sends a clear message. A clear warning to those who buy human beings for sex in San Diego County,” Stephan said. “If you think you’re not being watched, you are. If you think you’re operating in the shadows, you’re not. If you think you won’t be caught and held accountable for your role in promoting sex trafficking, think again.”
For more information about PCI’s anti-trafficking work, visit www.pciglobal.org/human-trafficking.