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Ed Royce addresses method to combat human trafficking by Magdalena Guillen and Robert Reyes for the Daily Titan

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November 4, 2013, November 4, 2013 | comments
Back home in the Philippines, human trafficking victim Angela Guanzon was promised a good job in the United States, but was stripped of her passport before even arriving.
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Back home in the Philippines, human trafficking victim Angela Guanzon was promised a good job in the United States, but was stripped of her passport before even arriving.

She was forced to work 18-hour days at a Los Angeles retirement home to pay off $12,000 that her traffickers demanded.

She slept outside in the hallways and was threatened with deportation by her traffickers.

Ambassador Luis CdeBaca of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons estimates that between 21 and 28 million people, like Guanzon, become victims of human trafficking every year.

Monday at the Titan Student Union, the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton), held an unprecedented field hearing to analyze international human trafficking and the fight for it at the international, state and local levels.

Human trafficking is not limited to foreign domestic servitude. The phrase serves as the umbrella term for all conduct involved in reducing a person to, or holding a person in a state of compelled service, whether for sex or labor, CdeBaca said.

To combat the global problem of human trafficking, Royce recently introduced the Fraudulent Overseas Recruitment and Trafficking Elimination Act of 2013 (H.R. 3344).

At the “Regional Perspectives in the Global Fight Against Human Trafficking,” Royce said the act would help establish that foreign assistance will not contribute to trafficking and to ensure transparency in foreign recruiting.

Although human trafficking is a global problem, more than two-thirds of the commercial sex victims in the United States are American citizens, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said.

Rackauckas said some of the most concerning cases are about children being sold for sex, where the average age of a child being trafficked in the United States is 12.

“It is because of the expertise established by some of these criminal syndicates in the use, for example, of ‘Romeos’ to find underage girls, maybe 14 years old, convince them to leave their state, come to California, leave her ties with her family and then begin the process of moving in with them and before they know it they are being trafficked—beaten and trafficked,” Royce said.

Rackauckas said the Orange County District Attorney’s office has implemented a new unit called Human Exploitation and Trafficking (HEAT) which not only attacks those who traffic humans, but also attacks those who solicit and pay for such services.

CdeBaca said in order to fight human trafficking domestically, it is necessary to dispel the notion that it is exclusively the responsibility of the federal government to take on longer proactive investigations, and that local officials are only capable of passing those investigations off to federal officials.

However, CdeBaca also acknowledged that there is a resource limitation.

“If you take somebody off of working on drugs and biker gangs so you can go after the pimps, then your biker gang problem ends up getting out of control,” CdeBaca said.

CdeBaca recommended moving away from responsive law enforcement and toward a more proactive approach that empowers local detectives.

A victim of human trafficking is more likely to come into contact with a patrol officer or prosecutor that specializes in domestic violence than an FBI agent or a federal prosecutor, CdeBaca said.

The stress on local and state laws reflects the fact that a majority of those coerced into the commercial sex trade are kidnapped or lured away from their own communities in America.

“Career criminals and gang members have decided that exploiting humans is cheaper and safer than trafficking drugs and guns,” Rackauckas said.

While there are socioeconomic factors at play, one of the most common ingredients to pre-teen girls being abducted is being out on their own, without supervision and becoming lured in.

“It’s not usually a kidnapping on the street where somebody jumps out of the bushes and grabs a young girl and throws her in the car,” Rackauckas said.

CdeBaca said that the problem of human trafficking cannot be solved by government alone.

The President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons has partnered with the survivor community, the public sector, the private sector, the faith community, civil society and academia in their fight, CdeBaca said.

Part of the task force’s strategy is to strengthen laws dealing with modern slavery which has become one of the most profitable criminal enterprises, second only to drug trafficking.

In California, the recent passage of Proposition 35 means longer prison sentences and higher fines for those convicted of human trafficking, helping to put some defendants into state prison with life terms.

The purpose of the law is to recognize trafficked individuals as victims as opposed to criminals.

Like the Orange County District Attorney, the State Department is focusing more on spreading information and creating public awareness.

Carissa Phelps, chief executive officer of Runaway Girl, FPC, an organization that reaches out to survivors of human trafficking, is a former victim herself.

Phelps said the key protective factors that protects those who are vulnerable are information and education.

“As my chief of staff can tell you, based on her volunteer work with trafficked girls in Cambodia and India, ‘You don’t see the harm of human trafficking most clearly in numbers or statistics. You see it in the eyes of the individual person whose life is being stolen and whose dignity is being assaulted, for the profit of someone else,’” said Royce.

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