San Francisco identifies 291 human trafficking victims during six-month period

Nearly 300 mostly young females were victims of sex trafficking in San Francisco during the last six months of 2014, according to a new city report that statistically begins to uncover the severity of the exploitation.

With a booming tourism industry and great business wealth, San Francisco ranks among the top hubs for human trafficking in California, along with Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Diego. Additionally, the Bay Area is among the 13 highest child sex trafficking areas in the nation.

But there is an effort to more deliberately curb the illegal activity, such as through better documenting how the $32 billion global industry has a foothold in The City. To do so, the first-of-its-kind report aggregates requested data from 19 nonprofits who work with survivors of human trafficking.

The nonprofits reported helping 291 survivors and suspected survivors of human trafficking, of which 224 were young females, between July and December of last year, according to The Human Trafficking in San Francisco report.

The report was released Monday by the two-year-old Mayor’s Task Force on Anti-Human Trafficking. Eleven percent of the cases were labor trafficking. Labor trafficking cases often include domestic workers or members of cleaning crews such as for hotels who are exploited.

Of the total victims, 118 were minors under the age of 18, including 12 who were 13 years old or younger, and 113 were between ages 18 and 24. Thirty-seven percent of the victims were black.

“It is important to recognize that modern day slavery is happening right here, right now, and it is up to us to put an end to it,” said Emily Murase, executive director of the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women, which oversees the task force.

The report does not include in the totals the data from the Police Department’s special victims unit, which uses a different definition for human trafficking. The unit arrested 68 traffickers, during the same time period. The police unit reported 68 cases of suspected sex trafficking survivors, including six minors, among 16 San Francisco neighborhoods.

The report acknowledges some of the shortcomings of the data such as the likely duplication of cases as well as the under-reporting of many victims.

Some groups reported where survivors came from, others did not. Larkin Street Youth Services reported 23 cases of human trafficking from places throughout the United States, like Miami, New York, Seattle and locally including The City and Alameda County.

Another nonprofit, Asian Women’s Shelter, served 15 survivors from countries like China, Nigeria and Mexico. Hediana Utarti, community projects coordinator with Asian Women’s Shelter, said sex trafficking survivors have been referred to the group following raids on brothels and massage parlors. Or there are cases such as a woman running away from an abusive home in Mexico, finding a boyfriend who becomes her pimp. Then she meets another man who turns out to be a “coyote” and brings her into Los Angeles or San Francisco where she remains trapped in a life of prostitution.

In a statement, Mayor Ed Lee said that “this landmark report helps the City understand who is being trafficked and provides strategies to improve our response as a City to combat human trafficking and help victims and survivors.”

Utarti said the report was beneficial so that “our San Francisco folks can see that this is serious and it happens right in front of us.” However, she emphasized the need to protect the identities of survivors. “If I were a survivor I don’t want you to know me as that person. I want you to know me as the person who has healed from all this,” Utarti said.

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