By MICHAEL RAMOS, San Bernardino County District Attorney
Human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation have been a hidden plague on our county, state, and nation for many years. In 2009 my office took a leadership role to respond to this problem and created the county’s Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation (C.A.S.E.). C.A.S.E. brought together a partnership of county departments including the District Attorney’s Office, Sheriff’s Department, Probation Department, County Superintendent of Schools, Department of Children and Family Services, Public Defender, and Department of Behavioral Health, to raise awareness of this issue, and to provide enhanced county and community resources to victims.
I am proud to say that C.A.S.E has achieved resounding success in revealing the extent of human trafficking in our county, educating the public, and helping rescue victims from this modern day slavery.
However, the crime of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation has continued to grow and evolve significantly over the past several years. The 2012 report by California’s Attorney General Kamala Harris, The State of Human Trafficking in California, details the extent this modern day slavery has infected our communities. Criminal street gangs have expanded from trafficking in drugs and guns, to trafficking in human beings. Gangs view human trafficking as a low risk, high profit, renewable resource enterprise. The perpetrators have become more sophisticated, utilizing social media to recruit victims, facilitate their crimes, and evade law enforcement. These pimps and panderers continue to prey on our children and other vulnerable members of our community, robbing them of their youth and their freedom.
It is clear to me that the District Attorney’s Office must now take the next step and focus our efforts on more effectively investigating and criminally prosecuting these ruthless exploiters. The voters of the State of California sent a clear message by the overwhelming passage of Proposition 35 (the “Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act” of 2012) by the largest margin in California history, 81%, that the solution to this problem is to send these pimps and panderers to prison for the longest time possible under the law. That is exactly what I intend to do by creation of the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit.