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Human Trafficking in Ventura County

A Report by the Ventura County Coalition Against Human Trafficking

Human trafficking—the exploitation of a person for sex or labor through the use of force, fraud, or coercion—is the second largest criminal industry worldwide and the fastest growing. The crime of human trafficking is a tragic reality in Ventura County. People are being bought and sold in hotels lining the 101 Freeway, home brothels, massage parlors, “traphouses” disguised as party houses, and other locations yet to be discovered. Victims have been children and adults, male and female, citizens and undocumented people. Although human trafficking is not a new crime in Ventura County, most information on cases prior to 2014 is anecdotal; human trafficking cases were largely unidentified or misfiled as prostitution or domestic violence.

The Ventura County Coalition Against Human Trafficking was formed in January 2015 as the first formal response to human trafficking in Ventura County. In this report, member agencies of the Ventura County Coalition Against Human Trafficking have provided both case data and statements regarding their perception of the prevalence of human trafficking within Ventura County in order to create the beginning of a public record on this crime.

Nine member agencies representing law enforcement, social services, and nonprofits participated in a prevalence survey recording cases of victims encountered from January 2014 to April 2016. Over that period, there were fifty-seven victims identified in Ventura County. The majority of victims were adult females exploited in sex trafficking. With the exception of one agency which conducts specific outreach to women in the sex industry, the victims were identified by service providers who were not actively looking for human trafficking cases but recognized the signs of exploitation during contact with a vulnerable person. Rarely did victims self-identify. Only six traffickers were known to be arrested, much less punished for their crimes.

Notable efforts are being made against human trafficking in Ventura County. Multiple public service agencies have been trained on the signs of both labor and sex trafficking. Collaboration between the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office and the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office resulted in the first sentencing of a human trafficker in May, 2016. However, there remains little to no consistent or coordinated prevention education, service provider training, proactive investigations, and dedicated services for victims within Ventura County. Intentional efforts are needed to help human trafficking victims in our community lest they remain overlooked and undercounted.

Click here to read the full report authored by Forever Found Local Programs Director Katie Rhodes.

Ventura County Men Seek Sex from Children

A fictitious ad by law enforcement received 100+ responses in just under 8 hr.

Results are in from the latest investigation paid for by the Forever Found Law Enforcement Fund. The fund exists to fund proactive investigations to identify human trafficking victims in Ventura County. Although victim identification is the ultimate goal, one facet of proactive investigations is to conduct operations targeting "demand" or sex purchasers. These demand operations help us understand the scope of the problem in our county and serve as a warning to future sex purchasers.

On Friday, January 22, the Ventura Police Department conducted an online sting in which officers posted an ad with pictures of a young looking female on a prominent sex advertisement site. Undercover officers identified the (fictitious) female as a minor when answering calls. The ad received responses over 100 separate phone numbers in just under 8 hours. Due to the limited nature of the operation, officers had to prioritize arrests of the first handful of people to set-up an appointment. They arrested the first four would-be purchasers in a brief period of time. Although this operation did not recover victims, it demonstrated to law enforcement and the public alike that there is unfortunately a strong market in Ventura County for the purchase of sex from children.

We are grateful to the Ventura County Star for posting a press release of the operation with pictures of the purchasers. You can view the release here. The Star referred to the undercover officer posing as an "underage prostitute." As anti-trafficking advocates, we must emphasize that a person under age 18 who is "induced to perform" a commercial sexual act is automatically considered a victim of human trafficking, not a prostitute. Regardless of our opinion, a child cannot legally consent to sex, and an exchange of money does not negate this legal fact. Both children and adults who are tricked and trapped into trafficking are controlled through violence, lies, and mind games. They are terrorized into compliance and explicitly directed to display happiness to customers and defiance to law enforcement. At Forever Found, we are working towards the prevention, rescue, and restoration of child trafficking victims. Please join us by donating to the Law Enforcement Fund for further operations, becoming a survivor mentor, or supporting the cause with your time and skills. Learn more at

Board of Supervisors Resolution

Ventura County

On November 3, 2015 the Ventura County Board of Supervisors signed a resolution affirming the County's commitment to work against local sex trafficking. Testimony from the Ventura County Coalition Against Human Trafficking, Ventura Police Department, Children and Family Services, La Hermandad Family Center, and Interface regarding human trafficking in Ventura County can be viewed here by clicking item 32 in the index.

2015 Benefit Dinner

Click here to see the pictures

Thank you to everyone who made our 2015 Benefit Dinner such a success. We enjoyed learning from Survivor Expert Rebecca Bender and our Founder Shannon Sergey. Click on the link above for pictures.

Statement on U.S. House Anti-Trafficking Legislation

WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 20, 2014)

Polaris Project, a leading organization in the global fight against human trafficking and modern slavery, released a statement on the series of bills the U.S. House of Representatives considered today on human trafficking. The bills included H.Res. 573, H.R. 4058, H.R. 4573, H.R. 3530, H.R. 3610, and H.R. 4225.

"Polaris Project is pleased that Congress is rightfully focusing its attention on helping people who are being exploited for profit against their will every day in America. The House Leadership and numerous legislative champions on both sides of the aisle are demonstrating a desire to prevent sex trafficking and help survivors rebuild their lives," said Bradley Myles, CEO of Polaris Project. "However, we are disappointed by the lack of interest to support all victims of human trafficking in these bills. Moving forward, we encourage Members of Congress to include labor trafficking victims in their legislative efforts because these victims have also faced abuse, sexual assault, threats, and other forms of coercion to perform labor or services against their will."

"These bills are a step in the right direction in our collective effort to support victims, especially child victims of sex trafficking. The bills seek to protect teenagers in the foster care system with new screening and identification methods and encourage states to treat trafficked children as victims instead of charging them with crimes they were forced to commit," added Britanny Vanderhoof, Polaris Project's Policy Counsel. "We are hopeful that bipartisan legislation, such as the bills put forward by Congressman Royce to curb fraudulent labor recruiting practices or Congresswoman Bass to strengthen the child welfare system for child victims of both sex and labor trafficking, can gain similar attention in Congress."

Polaris Project released a fact sheet on a number of the bills under consideration by the U.S. House, which can be accessed here.

Human trafficking is a thriving criminal industry, with traffickers making billions in profits by using force, fraud, or coercion to rob victims of their freedom. The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 20.9 million victims of human trafficking worldwide, with hundreds of thousands of victims forced to provide commercial sex, labor, or services against their will in the United States. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center, operated by Polaris Project, has received reports of more than 15,000 cases of human trafficking in the United States.

People can receive help, report a tip, or request information or training by calling the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888

Ventura aims to weed out illicit massage parlors. by, Arlene Martinez

Ventura County Star Thursday, January 17, 2013

Faced with a flood of applications for new massage parlors in 2009, the city of Ventura increased regulation of the growing industry.

The city implemented a six-month moratorium on new massage parlors and developed rules geared at eliminating establishments that were fronts for prostitution rings.

Now, Ventura is going further, hoping to step up enforcement across departments and beef up its ordinance to ensure massage parlors provide only legal therapy.

"The purpose of the code — it’s not to try and make life difficult for people who want to open a massage therapy business," Ventura police Cpl. David Ruggiero said. "Our goal is to maintain the integrity of the profession."

There are 65 permits for massage establishments in Ventura, compared with 27 in Oxnard, 23 in Simi Valley and 17 in Thousand Oaks, Ruggiero told the City Council on Jan. 7 in an update on the city’s crackdown efforts.

The number of such businesses bothers city officials because police say they are often fronts for illegal activity. Problems usually involve prostitution but increasingly has been linked to worse, officials said.

"There’s reason for us to be concerned there’s human trafficking going on in some of these establishments," Ruggiero said.

In the past year, police have conducted 50 inspections and made 20 arrests on suspicion of code enforcement violations. But such arrests are having little effect on the overall problem, police said.

There are “so many people willing to work and take over ownership. Even in cases where we suspend or revoke (their licenses), someone else will take over ownership almost immediately,” Ruggiero said.

Ventura is one of nearly 100 cities that require any employee of a massage establishment to be certified by the California Massage Therapy Council, council CEO Ahmos Netanel said.

The nonprofit council, created by state legislation in 2009, provides voluntary certification for massage therapists.

Massage practitioners need 250 hours of training for certification; massage therapists, 500. The process also involves a criminal-background check, Netanel said.

He added that recent changes to state law haven’t watered down a city’s ability to monitor massage parlors or impose restrictions, so long as they don’t single out massage parlors.

"They have to apply the same rules and regulations to other professions," he said.

But city officials disagree.

"It expressly forbids local regulation," except in narrow circumstances, City Attorney Ariel Calonne said.

Calonne’s office is working with the council to strengthen the city’s ordinance to crack down on illegal operators.

In October, police arrested three people on prostitution-related charges. Two were women, ages 38 and 47, while a third was a registered sex offender accused of managing two massage establishments in violation of city ordinance. Those cases are pending.

Ruggiero said arresting women on prostitution charges is not the answer, especially because they are the victims in many cases.

The parlors involved in the October arrests were in the 1700 and 1900 blocks of East Main Street. The availability of cheap office space in that midtown area might contribute to the growth of massage parlors in the city, officials said.

When Ventura updated its massage parlor rules in 2009, it banned blackened windows, business hours lasting past 10 p.m. and locked front doors that require clients to be buzzed inside. Some business owners got around the blackened windows provision by using blinds instead.

Updated rules will ban all window coverings, Calonne said.

"Administrative enforcement is where we will grapple with this problem most effectively," Calonne said, adding that more resources would help.

Police Chief Ken Corney said an increasing crackdown on prostitution and trafficking in Los Angeles was driving a lot of activity into Ventura County.

Even with that explanation, Councilwoman Christy Weir questioned why Ventura seemed to have more than its share of the parlors.

"We need to take a really hard look at the difference in enforcement," she said.

Weir requested that information be included when staff members return with the updated rules.

The FBI launched a 72-hour nationwide operation targeting pimps who prey on children -- an undercover mission that rescued 105 teens ranging mostly in age from 13 to 17 years old, with the youngest victim being 9 years old, authorities said Monday.

Ronald Hosko, assistant director of the FBI's criminal division, said "Operation Cross-Country" -- launched Friday -- included sting operations in 76 U.S. cities that resulted in the arrests of 150 pimps.

"Many of these children don't have concerned family members who are looking for them."

- John Ryan, CEO of the Center for Missing and Exploited Children

Child sex trafficking remains "one of the most prevalent, violent and unconscionable crimes in our country," Hosko said during a news conference Monday morning.

Hosko said law enforcement refers to these young victims as "children with a void." Once the pimp identifies that void and makes every attempt to fill it, a dependency between the child and the perpetrator develops, Hosko said.

He added that the most vulnerable victims forced into sex trafficking range in age from 13 to 16. Most of the children come from either foster care homes or are considered runaways.

"This operation targeted venues where girls and adults are operated for commercial sex," Hosko said, including places like street tracks, truck stops, casinos and hotels.

"The victims cut across racial lines," he said, and span all socioeconomic levels and demographics.

John Ryan, CEO of the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, called underage prostitution an "escalating threat against America's children." Ryan congratulated federal, state and local authorities for "bringing to justice those who violently manipulate these children and sell them for sex" during the 72-hour massive operation.

"Many of these children don't have concerned family members who are looking for them," Ryan said.

The FBI joined forces with 230 agencies around the country during the three-day mission, Hosko said. Every FBI field office in the nation was involved in the operation.

Hosko said that in the past, child prostitutes have been recovered at major U.S. sporting events, including the NCAA men's college basketball tournament and the Super Bowl.

Drew Oosterbaan of the Department of Justice, who also spoke at the news conference, said a range of state and federal charges will be brought against the pimps apprehended during the mission.

"Operation Cross-Country" was the largest of its type and conducted under the FBI's "Innocence Lost" initiative. The FBI said the campaign has resulted in rescuing 2,700 children since 2003.

Read more:

The organizer of a sex ring who forced women to prostitute themselves for money was sentenced today to 18 years in prison in Cook County’s first conviction in a human trafficking case, State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced today. Troy Bonaparte, 46, was convicted by a jury in March of Involuntary Servitude, Trafficking in Persons for Forced Labor or Services, and Pandering. Bonaparte was arrested on August 8, 2010 by undercover investigators in an Elk Grove Village motel room, where he was found with money and computer equipment used to run the prostitution ring.

Immigration Minister Damian Green has launched a new strategy focusing on supporting victims of human trafficking, alongside better intelligence and enforcement activity to disrupt organised criminal networks. The new strategy includes a review of the current legislation to ensure that traffickers receive appropriate penalties for their crimes and a targeted focus on the countries that are a major source of trafficking and raising of awareness among potential victims.

U.S. authority launches a public campaign to fight against human trafficking. The campaign includes the ads based on the feedback from Homeland Security. The ads will run across the states including District of Columbia, Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina. The campaign’s primary target is to countermeasure labor trafficking in the U.S.

A woman was sentenced to life in prison for trafficking three girls from Mozambique. According to the report, the convicted trafficker locked the girls in the age between 14 and 17 in a house and forced them into prostitution.

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