Human trafficking more common in Ca.

January 18, 2008 6:09:25 PM PST
California is the top destination in the U.S. for people who force women and girls into hard labor and sex trade. U.C. Berkeley researchers found 57 forced labor operations over a five year period, in about a dozen California cities, involving more than 500 people from 18 countries.

The task force wants police and prosecutors to have more power to fight these crimes.

Human traffickers lured "Esperanza" to California from her destitute town in Mexico five years ago, with the promise of a good job making good money. However, it turned out to be grueling work in an L.A. sweatshop.

"I had to live and sleep in the shop. I had to work 17 hours a day, sometimes more," says Esperanza, human trafficking victim.

When she asked to leave, her employers threatened her family members and close ones.

"She said someone who I love would pay the consequences."

A new state report out today is shedding light on how bad the problem is in California. Though exact numbers don't exist, thousands are somehow brought in across the borders and coerced into the sex trade or hard labor.

San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris is on the task force to help state leaders find solutions.

"California is one of the top destinations for human trafficking. Approximately 80 percent of the victims of human trafficking are women and girls. Up to 50 percent of victims of human trafficking are minors. So it's a real problem," says Harris.

The report recommends:

- Tougher prison penalties for traffickers
- More power to police and prosecutors
- More emergency shelters for victims

After successfully maneuvering anti-human trafficking legislation in 2005, Assemblywoman Sally Lieber has another for next session that'll help prosecutors.

"This report will be very impactful on convincing my colleagues to pass that bill, convincing the Governor to sign it."

"Esperanza" spent 40 days in the L.A. sweatshop before she pretended to go to church and escaped. Today, she's a victims' advocate.

"I want to tell victims that there is hope. There is help," says Esperanza.

To raise public awareness about this problem, a new resolution will take effect next month, declaring every January 11th in California as 'National Human Trafficking Day.'"