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Bay Area agencies improvise tactics to battle trafficking

With little guidance from state leaders, local police, nonprofits fight for scarce funding
This special report appeared in the Spring 2012 print edition of the San Francisco Public Press.
Across California, local agencies have been left to scramble for limited resources and improvise strategies to fight human trafficking, a problem whose scope has yet to be defined with reliable numbers. A high-profile state task force studying California’s human trafficking problem made 46 recommendations in October 2007 but set up no mechanism to monitor progress. Attorney General Kamala Harris has begun picking up the pieces this year. But without clear guidance from the state, nine regional task forces sprung up to devise their own solutions. Their efforts have been supported mostly by federal grants. But as the funding rules become more stringent, the groups at times have been pitted against each other for resources.

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Uneven fight against human trafficking — San Francisco Public Press Issue #6

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: WEDNESDAY FEB. 15, 2012
CONTACT:
Michael Stoll, executive director
Lila LaHood, publisher
(415) 495-7377, news (AT) sfpublicpress (DOT) org
UNEVEN FIGHT AGAINST HUMAN TRAFFICKING — SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC PRESS ISSUE #6
SAN FRANCISCO — The Bay Area’s battle against the scourge of human trafficking has been hampered by state inaction because of budget cuts and internal competition among an array of local law enforcement agencies and nonprofits that work on the issue. As a result, some counties arrest hundreds of traffickers and some hardly any; and victim services providers often have strained relations with the police. Those are among the findings of a team reporting project in the Spring 2012 print edition of the San Francisco Public Press, hitting newsstands on Feb. 15.

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How an infamous Berkeley human trafficking case fueled reform

Advocates for increased prison terms say 10-year-old sex trafficking case changed conversation
This special report appeared in the Spring 2012 print edition of the San Francisco Public Press. (Read in Spanish at La Opiñon/Impremedia. Leer en español en La Opiñon/Impremedia.)
Lakireddy Balireddy shocked the Bay Area a decade ago when investigators discovered how the Berkeley landlord transported young women and girls from India for sex. He served eight years in prison. His case still inspires reformers who want to put human traffickers away for longer.This year’s campaign to get tougher anti-trafficking laws on the November ballot as a voter initiative is the latest attempt to deal with what proponents call the unfinished business of legal reform.

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U.S. visas help trafficking victims, if applicants can vault legal hurdles

Chance for permanent residency, access to federal benefits hinge on cooperating with law enforcement
This special report appeared in the Spring 2012 print edition of the San Francisco Public Press.
A special visa created 12 years ago to save thousands of victims of human trafficking and curb international human trafficking has been vastly underutilized. Attorneys for rescued victims seeking residency protection say law enforcement agencies are often unwilling or slow to “certify” victims’ claims of having been brought to the U.S. to work by force, fraud or coercion. Legal experts and social service providers in high-trafficking regions, including the San Francisco Bay Area, suggest that victims are placed in a dangerous dilemma: Promising to cooperate with an investigation could possibly help their visa cases, but it could also expose them and their families back home to retaliation.

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Human trafficking is a growing global scourge

This special report appeared in the Spring 2012 print edition of the San Francisco Public Press.
Slavery is alive and well in the 21st century. There are more people enslaved today than at any other time in history. The U.S. State Department says that estimates of those enslaved through human trafficking ranges from 4 million to 27 million.

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California voter initiative would strengthen penalties for traffickers

This special report appeared in the Spring 2012 print edition of the San Francisco Public Press.
A California group dedicated to stopping human trafficking is hoping to take its fight directly to voters this fall. In January, the nonprofit advocacy group California Against Slavery began circulating petitions to get a measure on the November 2012 ballot to strengthen the state’s human trafficking laws. The measure is called the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act, and the campaign has mobilized hundreds of people around the state to collect the 800,000 valid signatures required for the measure to make the ballot.

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State labor agencies slow to coordinate with law enforcement on trafficking cases

This special report appeared in the Spring 2012 print edition of the San Francisco Public Press.
Despite a strongly worded recommendation from a California-wide task force four years ago urging labor standards officials to look for signs of human trafficking, state and local investigators say there has so far been little coordination or direct follow-up with law enforcement or organizations supporting victims. The task force, which was disbanded in 2007 but is reconvening throughout this spring, outlined the need to identify and rescue victims — as opposed to deporting them in the course of routine labor enforcement sweeps.

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Weak state law, lack of police savvy frustrate attorneys who prosecute traffickers

This special report appeared in the Spring 2012 print edition of the San Francisco Public Press.
While California prosecutors mostly agree that the state’s human trafficking laws need strengthening, they also suggest that failure to recognize the crime itself remains a greater impediment in the fight. State law is still relatively new. Assembly Bill 22 of 2005 created penalties specifically for human traffickers. But some attorneys say it has not been much help. 

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Understanding the Bay Area’s human trafficking problem: KPFA News interviews reporter Jason Winshell

The Public Press’ latest print edition cover story, on California’s uncoordinated attack on the problem of human trafficking, has been picked up in a variety of media since the publication of the special team reporting project in the Spring 2012 edition: “Force, Fraud Coercion: Human Trafficking in the Bay Area.” The project was produced in collaboration with New America Media and El Tecolote, San Francisco’s bilingual newspaper. Last week Public Press reporter Jason Winshell was interviewed on KPFA Radio by producer Anthony Fest. Winshell’s lead story showed that four years after a high-profile state task force issued a study, many of its recommendations for better laws, funding and coordination among agencies have yet to materialize.

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Citizen petition claims more than 800,000 signatures for anti-trafficking ballot measure

A nearly three-year effort to put a strong anti-human-trafficking law before voters succeeded this week, organizers said, when they counted 873,000 signatures on their petition to put the proposed Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act on the November state ballot. The citizen-led campaign to strengthen criminal penalties against people who traffic teenagers, children and immigrant laborers on the streets of California cities, and over the Internet, has been working on the issue since 2009, when some Fremont residents started a grassroots organizing effort.

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Infamous Berkeley human trafficking case’s long shadow: KALW News interviews reporter Viji Sundaram

The story of Lakireddy Balireddy made international headlines in the early 2000s, but what happened in the decade since then was even more important, said reporter Viji Sundaram of New America Media and part of a team project on human trafficking in the Spring 2012 print edition of the San Francisco Public Press.
Last week Sundaram sat down with KALW News host Holly Kernan to discuss her reporting on the history of efforts to battle human trafficking in the Bay Area and California.

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Comic: Obedience is the best weapon

One woman’s true tale of human trafficking and rescue
Human trafficking is largely seen as a problem overseas, but its rise in the U.S. has gone largely underreported. For its Spring 2012 edition, the San Francisco Public Press published a special report on human trafficking in the Bay Area. The report examined the financial and political challenges facing agencies that aid trafficking victims and prosecute perpetrators. As a follow-up to this report, renowned cartoon artist Dan Archer illustrated one woman’s story with a full-page cartoon in the Summer 2012 edition.

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Without long-term support, human trafficking survivors at risk of re-exploitation

Some who flee captive labor conditions end up with low-wage jobs, insecure housing
People trafficked into the country receive temporary government and nonprofit social service benefits after rescue or flight from captivity: shelter, health care, counseling, employment and legal help. But once these benefits term out, counter-trafficking specialists worry that victims, who generally have little work experience and weak social and family networks, could fall back into labor conditions as exploitative as the ones they fled. As a victim of international labor trafficking, Lili Samad received government help to stay in the U.S. But she is among hundreds of trafficking survivors each year who end up, months after getting help trying to build a new life, living in marginal housing and working in low-wage jobs.

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