Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force (OCHTTF) celebrated a decline in human trafficking victims and 10 years of collaboration in their 2021 annual report.
OCHTTF’s two-year study showed a decline in human trafficking victims from their previous report. A total of 357 victims were served in 2019 and 2020, a drop from the 415 assisted in 2017 and 2018.
Of the 357 victims, 317 were victims of sex trafficking, 33 were victims of labor trafficking and seven were victims of both labor and sex trafficking; 330 were females, making up the majority of victims, while 27 were males; 101 of the victims were children.
Michelle Heater, program director of victim assistance services for the nonprofit organization Waymakers, spoke on behalf of OCHTTF.
“Vulnerable populations are being abused and it’s happening right here in Orange County,” Heater said. “This violent crime is occurring in broad daylight.”
In 2004, a small group of members from different agencies founded the task force, two years after the first trafficking victim was identified in Orange County.
In 2010, Waymakers and the Anaheim Police Department joined together to co-lead OCHTTF and expanded their partnerships to several agencies including the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, Salvation Army, U.S. Attorney’s Office and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations.
In 2019, California was ranked highest in the country for human trafficking cases reported by the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
“It takes all of these collaborative partnerships to have a chance of helping to change and truly save lives,” Heater said.
Waymakers played a key role in the growth and success of the task force, according to Anaheim police Chief George Cisneros.
“This partnership ushered in a new era in how we respond to victims of pimping and human trafficking,” he said. “The change in mindset, it was neither quick nor easy. But that is always the case when a paradigm shift is necessary.”
The victim-centered approach was introduced and learned through Waymakers, and the agencies involved use different forms of this method when providing their specific services to the victims.
“This approach has made all the difference in obtaining even the slightest cooperation from victims, which in turn means the perpetrators are brought to justice,” Cisneros said.
OCDA Todd Spitzer highlighted the California Supreme Court decision in the 2020 People v. Moses case in which Antonio Chavez Moses III was faced with multiple charges for his engagement in sexual criminal conduct.
An undercover police officer of the Santa Ana Police Department lured Moses in by posing as a young girl, resulting in his arrest. Moses appealed and argued that he couldn’t be convicted of anything more than an attempted crime because it wasn’t with a true under-aged prostitute.
After the appellate court agreed with Moses, Spitzer wrote a letter to the California Supreme Court asking to revisit the case. The court ruled that a perpetrator can be prosecuted if there is any attempt to engage in illegal activities of this sort, regardless if it is true.
“It had a significant impact of our ability to use undercover operatives and to get the full force of the law here in Orange County,” Spitzer said. “Most importantly, it is now the citable example for all human trafficking in the state of California for all undercover activities.”
In the last 10 years, the task force prosecuted 773 cases of human trafficking. From 2016 to 2020, 94% of cases reviewed were filed and of the cases that went to trial, 95% were convicted.
Although there have been successes with the OCHTTF collaborative and a decline in cases as seen through previous reports, members of the task force emphasized that human trafficking is an ongoing, global issue.
“The education of the public is of utmost importance,” Heater said. “If it isn’t for the educating of not only the jurors but also voters throughout the state of California—if isn’t for those efforts—we aren’t able to be where we are today and we won’t be able to move this work forward not only for the next decade but for many, many decades to come.”
Visit the OCHTTF website for more resources and information on human trafficking in Orange County.