Written by Steve Cannon for USSA News.
In a joint effort between multiple federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, 368 individuals were arrested and 131 victims were rescued in a statewide human trafficking operation called “Operation Reclaim and Rebuild”. The operation was conducted between January 22nd and January 28th in nine counties, including Los Angeles, Orange, and San Bernardino.
“We know that the sex trade is a prolific one that exists throughout this state and throughout our nation. It’s an ugly scar against this great country that exists too often in plain sight,” said Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Chief Michel Moore at a news conference at the department’s Elysian Park Academy.
The victims rescued during the operation had an average age of mid-20s, ranging from 13 to 52, including six children. The authorities, in cooperation with victim advocacy groups, provided services and resources to help the victims escape from their life-threatening situations.
During the operation, investigators responded to various advertisements offering sexual services and went to massage parlors suspected of being involved in trafficking. The individuals arrested included pimps, panderers, and customers of sexual services. The victims were being exploited through coercion, threats of death or against their family, or were kidnapped and isolated to become dependent on their traffickers.
In the past, victims of human trafficking were often regarded by law enforcement as criminals, however, the modern attitude is to view them as having been exploited by criminals who often kidnap and hold them against their will. Authorities emphasized that this seven-day task force is just a small part of their ongoing efforts to combat sex trafficking.
“Traffickers are master predators. They’re on the hunt for vulnerable kids and adults,” said David Cox, COO for ZOE International, a Los Angeles-based non-profit that helps victims recover once rescued locally and internationally. ZOE International, in partnership with Saving Innocents, a similar Los Angeles-based non-profit, has cared for 489 youth victims of sex trafficking in the past year, with some as young as 11. Cox emphasized that the sex trade is a violent industry, and some victims have been pistol-whipped, jumped out of moving vehicles to escape, chased down and beaten, gone missing, or lost their lives.
Journey Out, another LA-based non-profit combating human trafficking, cared for 256 adult victims last year. The fight against human trafficking is ongoing, and organizations such as ZOE International and Journey Out are dedicated to helping victims recover and rebuild their lives.
“In our city, kids are being raped 20 to 30 times a day,” Cox said, emphasizing the urgency and importance of continued efforts to combat human trafficking.