“Fast Growing Criminal Industry” – Lake County Record-Bee
LAKE COUNTY— In 2010, President Barack Obama designated January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. On January 11, 2022, continuing the practice of bringing attention to a global tragedy, the Lake County Board of Supervisors passed a proclamation recognizing the first month of the year as Human Trafficking Awareness Month. . For several reasons.
Human trafficking is a crime at all levels – local, state, national and international. It’s the buying and selling of people. It is a form of modern-day slavery. It violates human rights. It involves recruiting, harboring, and transporting a person of any age, race, or gender using force, deception, or coercion for the purposes of labor, service, or the sex trade for profit. It crosses borders. It’s a big business, estimated at $150 billion a year worldwide. Human trafficking includes sex trafficking, labor trafficking, forced labor to pay debt, and child trafficking. “After drug trafficking, human trafficking is linked to the illegal arms industry as the second largest criminal industry in the world today, and it is the fastest growing,” according to the department. US Homeland Security.
The US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) calls human trafficking a public health issue because it affects everyone – individuals, families and communities. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) website includes these descriptions: “Traffickers around the world prey on the poor, the vulnerable, those living in dangerous or unstable circumstances, or seeking ‘a better life. Traffickers may act alone or be part of an organized criminal enterprise. Victims of trafficking are deceived with false promises of love, a good job or a stable life and are lured or forced into situations where they are forced to work in deplorable conditions with little or no pay .
The DOJ asserts that victims of trafficking and traffickers in the United States are either US citizens or foreign citizens, noting: LGBTQ), persons with disabilities, undocumented migrants, runaway and homeless youth, temporary guest workers and low-income people.
The State Attorney General’s (AG) website provides estimates regarding victims of human trafficking: “The International Labor Organization estimates that there are more than 24.9 million victims of human trafficking human beings in the world at any time. This includes 16 million victims of labor exploitation, 4.8 million victims of sexual exploitation and 4.1 million victims of state-imposed forced labour. Victims of human trafficking are often young girls and women. Girls and women represent 57.6% of victims of forced labor and 99.4% of victims of sex trafficking.
Human Trafficking in Lake County
Human trafficking can happen in any community. That this is happening in Lake County should come as no surprise, though it may not be as prevalent as in other cities and towns in the state. In recent years, California has led or been one of the top three states (along with Texas and Florida) with the highest human trafficking rates in the country. Data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline shows that a total of 11,500 cases across the country were reported in 2019. Of those cases, in California, 1,507 were reported, including 1,118 related to sex trafficking, 158 in labor trafficking and 69 to both. sex and labor trafficking. According to the state attorney general’s office, “California is a prime destination for human trafficking due to its large immigrant population and large economy.” The number of reported cases belies the actual number of occurrences of human trafficking because victims may be afraid to speak out for fear of reprisal, feel ashamed, simply want to put it in the past, or feel emotionally attached to their abusers/traffickers.
Lake County Sheriff Brian Martin told the Record-Bee he has seen more cases of labor trafficking than sex trafficking in the county. He thinks this is likely due to the illegal cultivation of marijuana that persists despite the legalization of recreational marijuana sales and cannabis cultivation five years ago. “When we went to illegal marijuana gardens in the state forest (Mendocino), we found Mexican nationals, men who are farmers who don’t know where they are and are forced to work in the fields. They live in tents. They were told that they had to work otherwise they would be killed or their families would be killed.
One of the cases that stands out in Sheriff Martin’s mind is “the girl in the box.” The box, according to media reports, was a metal tool box measuring 4 feet long, 2 feet high and 2 feet wide. An Associated Press publication on July 10, 2019 said the 15-year-old runaway was shocked with a cattle prod, chained to a sofa bed by the neck for three to four days and forced into the toolbox where she found. kept for a total of three days.
Lake County District Attorney Susan Krones, who served as the county’s child molestation prosecutor for seven years, described the 2013 ‘girl in the box’ case as ‘very horrific’ . “The matter has been investigated by the Sheriff’s Office and Homeland Security,” Krones said in an email. “The defendants were Patrick Pearmain and Ryan Balletto. They were part of an illegal marijuana grow operation in the county. They picked up the juvenile in Los Angeles and came to Lake County. They kept her in a box and she was forced to work on growing marijuana. They sexually assaulted her several times. Although we initially indicted the case, we dismissed it so that the US Attorney’s office could pursue the case under federal law for a heavier sentence than California law. The AP article noted that sheriff’s deputies and Homeland Security investigators found more than a thousand marijuana plants and numerous firearms, including assault weapons, body armor and body armor. -bullets, gas masks and a large amount of ammunition on property owned by Balletos. In 2019, both perpetrators were sentenced to federal prison — Pearmain for 12.5 years and Balleto for 31 years.
A more recent case, Krones said, was the case of Lakeport resident Sam Lindsey Massette, who was sentenced to 20 years for false imprisonment and pandering. Asked if child pornography is a form of human trafficking, Krones replied, “Possession of child pornography is not directly related to sex trafficking but…is related in the sense that videos and images on the Internet depict child victims of sexual assault and trafficking. Most cases in the county that Krones is aware of involve residents.
Victim Witness Program
The investigation of human trafficking cases often involves the cooperation and collaboration of multiple law enforcement agencies and the work does not stop when the perpetrators/traffickers are tracked down and arrested. Victims are expected to testify in court against their traffickers/captors/abusers while trying to recover from physical, mental and emotional trauma. Despite the horror of their experience, not all victims are willing to cooperate and may need to be persuaded; some are even combative.
The District Attorney’s Victim Witness Division and the non-profit Lake Family Resource Center (LCRC) are two organizations focused entirely on victims of crime and their needs. The Witnesses and Victims Division provides support to victims of crime, including victims of human trafficking, at all stages of the criminal justice system. Crystal Martin, Administrator of the Victim Witness Program, said: “Many of our cases have an element of human trafficking. In this office, we help provide a safe place for victims and find them shelter.
Crystal Martin noted that using a multidisciplinary center has been an effective strategy for building trust between victims and law enforcement. She described the Child Advocate Center as a safe, warm and comfortable place where a victim is interviewed once by a trained investigator, instead of being interviewed multiple times by different people, which is usually the usual practice. Everyone who has an interest in the case, such as the detective, the attorney and the child protection representative, is in an adjoining room, listening to the interview and passing questions to the interviewer, if necessary, commented Crystal Martin.
Additionally, Krones said, “Our Victim Witness program hosts numerous awareness events throughout the year to raise awareness about child sexual abuse, domestic violence and sex trafficking. We provide training at the Lake Family Resource Center on issues related to sex trafficking and child molestation. Our office is a partner of the center and we have signed the Child Commercial Sexual Exploitation Memorandum of Understanding with other law enforcement agencies in the county. Raising public awareness through community events and having our Victim Witness staff attend these events is one way to increase awareness in Lake County.
Lake Family Resource Center
Recognizing the work of the Lake Family Resource Center Human Trafficking Program and its coordinator, Kara Roberts, the Oversight Board Proclamation states: Support, Advocacy and Coaching of Survivors and Prevention of Human Trafficking in the County of Lake…Our community is urged to support the efforts of agencies serving victims of human trafficking and urges all local governments, schools, businesses and community members to be aware and report any suspects to local law enforcement agencies and help shed light on human trafficking.
Celebrating its first anniversary this month, the grant-funded Anti-Human Trafficking Program today works with 18 clients, mostly women, 13 of whom are victims of sex and human trafficking. five are victims of labor trafficking, according to Roberts. Through the program and its advocates, these victims can obtain financial assistance, food and clothing, find shelter and learn how to find employment. “I love doing this job,” Roberts said. “I love helping people and helping them feel safe.” She is putting together a human trafficking training program in the early spring exclusive to law enforcement participants.
At least 20 sheriff’s deputies must complete the one-day training course. “I think it will be good for us,” Sheriff Martin said. “It will help us focus more on the victims and stop treating victims as suspects.”