SB police make 22 human trafficking-related arrests
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Local law enforcement made 22 human trafficking-related arrests over the course of a three day operation in Santa Barbara County between January 23rd and January 26th. Seven females were also identified as potential victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation, who were contacted by “advocates from the District Attorney’s Office Victim Witness Program and were offered or provided with services geared toward helping them break away from their exploitation,” according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office (SBCSO).
Operation Reclaim and Rebuild refers to a statewide collaborative effort to combat human trafficking. Organized by the Los Angeles Regional Human Trafficking Task Force, this operation has grown to include more than 90 federal, state, and local agencies in various sectors, and is now in its fifth year of existence. The significance of this operation lies in its ability to bring together participants from law enforcement, behavioral wellness, faith organizations, child welfare services, and health care providers to converge on the complex and multifaceted issue of human trafficking in the state of California, as reported by SBCSO.
This year’s operation resulted in 339 total arrests statewide. It was specifically effective because of law enforcement’s various methods of investigation on several different fronts, as described by SBCSO’s reports. While trafficker-stings were conducted in Santa Barbara, Goleta focused on sex-buyer stings, and both types of operation were conducted of the city of Santa Maria. Undercover investigators posed online as well as in person to identify pimps and traffickers, “johns” (customers), and individuals in comprised circumstances potentially being coerced into sex work or exploitation. In some cases, law enforcement agents negotiated sex acts and transactions, posing as johns or prostitutes in order to identify those involved in criminal activity and legally arrest alleged perpetrators. The Los Angeles Times reports that one officer specifically posed online as a 14-year-old boy, and was subsequently led to an agreed meeting place where a 54-year-old-man was attempting to “groom and entice” a minor. Another case in Fresno involved the rescue of two sisters, both of whom were minors trapped in forced prostitution.
One agency involved in Operation Reclaim and Rebuild is CAST (Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking) Los Angeles, which provides “comprehensive services to survivors and advocate for groundbreaking policies and legislation.” Kay Buck, CEO of CAST LA commented in an email on February 8th, “the ...operation was spotlighted because it was Human Trafficking Awareness Month, but it’s important to note that the task force collaborated on cases all year long. The most important aspect about the taskforce is that it brings multi-disciplinary partners together ... to collaborate on trafficking cases so that survivors of trafficking understand their rights and receive the immediate services and support they need and deserve to address trauma.”
Ultimately, the motivation behind these stings is rooted not in penalizing criminal activity, but in rehabilitation and restoration for communities affected by this issue. The operation’s original intent has remained central to its ongoing growth and progress. As Kay Buck stated on Friday: “It’s a rights-based, survivor-centered approach to human trafficking.” Following the 2017 operation, Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge Joseph Macias stated in a press conference: “Our goal in this unprecedented collaborative enforcement effort was ... to provide vital services to any sex trafficking victims we encountered ... and to reclaim and rebuild the neighborhoods that have been degraded by organized prostitution schemes.”