Human trafficking task force reaching more victims in Orange County, new report shows – Orange County Register

More victims of human trafficking are being helped and more perpetrators are being sent to jail, according to the latest report from the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force.

The Human Trafficking Victim Report released Thursday, Jan. 11, in conjunction with national Human Trafficking Awareness Day, looks at statistics compiled in 2016, when the number of victims assisted by the task force reached 284, an increase from 225 victims who were helped in 2015.

The report categorizes 234 victims of sex trafficking; 43 victims of labor trafficking; and seven victims overlapping labor and sex trafficking. The vast majority — 261 — were female, and 74 were minors. All but 58 were U.S. nationals.

The increase in the number of victims identified in the report does not mean that human trafficking is on the rise in Orange County, said Lita Mercado, co-chairwoman of the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force and director of victim assistance programs at Wayfinders (formerly known as Community Services Program).

This is the fifth such report issued by the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force, a multidisciplinary effort that involves more than 60 agencies from law enforcement, social services, government, and nonprofit and faith-based organizations.

Multi-pronged efforts of the task force continue to result in better identification and follow-up with victims, along with ongoing case management, thanks to more proactive efforts on behalf of local law enforcement, county social workers, educators, and the community, Mercado said.

Now two full-time sergeants from the Anaheim and Irvine police departments are assisted in identifying human trafficking victims and pursuing suspects by officers from the Orange County Sheriff’s Dept., police departments in Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and Santa Ana, the Orange County District Attorney’s Investigative Bureau, the California Highway Patrol, and Homeland Security & Investigations.

“One of the primary reasons we can identify more victims is we have a dedicated team,” Mercado said.

Another improvement involved training of social workers in the county’s child welfare services to look for signs of trafficking in youth from outside Orange County who are taken into custody, along with asking them questions that might reveal such victimization.

The county took advantage of state money made available by legislation in 2015 to train social workers and provide better assessment tools, Mercado said. And more…

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