San Mateo County launches poster campaign with resources for human trafficking victims 

San Mateo County officials launched a poster campaign on Tuesday to raise awareness about human trafficking in the area and offer resources to victims, witnesses and concerned citizens seeking help.

“If you or someone you know,” reads the poster, “is being forced to engage in any activity and cannot leave — whether it is commercial sex, housework, farm work, construction, factory, retail or restaurant work, or any other activity — call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888.”

The signs were produced as part of a regional effort — San Mateo, San Francisco and Alameda counties — to comply with California Senate Bill 1193, which requires certain businesses to post notices with information on human trafficking.

“Each business or establishment that falls under this law will be receiving a letter explaining the legal requirements and also the poster itself. These posters cannot be hidden. ... [An] establishment must post the notice in a conspicuous place near the public entrance,” said Don Horsley, a county supervisor and former sheriff.

As many at 17,500 people are trafficked into the country each year, according to U.S. State Department estimates. Victims can become entrapped in all types of modern slavery, ranging from sexual exploitation to forced labor, according to law enforcement officials.

District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe stressed that it is not only foreigners who can have their freedoms taken away. In 2013 alone, five people were arrested in the county on suspicion of keeping women — all local residents — in bondage.

“There’s human trafficking in all of the 58 counties in the state of California. Is it in San Mateo County? Right now, we’re prosecuting two cases that serve as an example,” Wagstaffe said. “It’s in our community. It’s important for us to stop it.”

In the weeks ahead, the posters will appear in the windows of massage parlors, shops of an adult or sexual nature, job recruitment centers, farm labor contractors, bars, emergency rooms, and at airports, bus stations, truck stops and rest areas.

The Sheriff’s Office will conduct routine compliance checks and those establishments that fail to display the notices will face civil penalties ranging from $500 for first-time offenders to $1,000 for repeated violations.

The posters, which can be downloaded at BAHC2Freedom.org, offer two toll-free hotlines where callers can anonymously report suspicious activity, receive immediate crisis support, and request referrals to shelters or clinics.

They are written in English, Spanish and Chinese, but responders are available in more than 160 languages, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

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S. Parker Yesko

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