Sacramento Together, a regionwide offensive to combat human trafficking, launched Thursday, bringing together a coalition of the legal community and law enforcement, community organizations, advocates and local leaders to fight sexual and labor exploitation in the area.
“No child or adult should live in fear of sexual or labor exploitation,” said Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, who announced the new initiative in a news conference at her downtown offices as law enforcement officials and advocates looked on. More than 30 area agencies and groups are part of the effort.
The work of Sacramento Together will be multifaceted: enforcement sweeps by police on the streets and in storefronts; advocates to rescue and rehabilitate child and adult victims caught in dangerous situations; electronic billboard and other public awareness campaigns to educate the larger public of the issue; court diversion programs to address the needs of the exploited; as well as a website, Facebook page and smartphone app that connects to a number of services for those who have fallen victim to exploitation and human trafficking.
“Community participation is going to be key,” said Sacramento Police Deputy Chief Mike Bray. “We can’t arrest our way out of this problem.”
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Law enforcement, the legislature and local governments have been working to curb trafficking, clamping down on businesses that exploit workers and are fronts for illicit activity and reaching out to victims of exploitation. Late last year, local cities including Elk Grove and Folsom instituted moratoriums on new massage businesses in an attempt to halt suspected prostitution under cover of legitimate businesses. State lawmakers last year also passed legislation returning to local governments the power of land-use restrictions over massage businesses.
But the Sacramento area and the Central Valley remain a hotspot for trafficking. Federal agents working out of the FBI’s Sacramento field office and local law enforcement in June 2014 rescued nine underage girls working as prostitutes and nabbed seven pimps as part of the Bureau’s Operation Cross Country program, which recovers exploited children. The total was the sixth-highest total of recoveries of the FBI’s 54 field offices, officials said at the time.
“It’s up to us to admit that Sacramento has an issue,” said Sacramento Mayor Pro Tem Angelique Ashby. “An issue equates to an opportunity – an opportunity to be a leader.”
Schubert’s office culled its own caseload to show its recent prosecutions: A man who met, then forced a teenage girl to sell herself for sex. The man’s mother ferried the girl to different area motels. Both man and mother are now in state prison.