Los Angeles is a magnet for human trafficking. Its impact touches all nations, big or small; its reach affects every region, rich or poor; and its spread influences every community, be it urban, suburban or rural.

Stewarding evil

Traffickers can be as diverse as foreign dignitaries that bring domestic slaves into the U.S. from their own countries, local gang members that convince young girls of the glamour of the commercial sex industry or businesses that rely on forced labor.

Make no mistake, slavery is happening in the nations from where we get our goods, but also in our neighborhoods, on our own blocks, and maybe even next door. Traffickers come into our schools, attend our places of worship and may even be members of our own extended families. They prey on our friends and neighbors, provide “no cost” workers to our favorite local restaurants and are integral cogs in the supply chains of a number of the well-known brands we covet.

Today, tomorrow

Making matters worse, human trafficking is fast becoming the most lucrative of all criminal enterprises. This is because a person can be enslaved and re-sold many times over, while a narcotic is consumed only once.

"...this scourge of human trafficking continues to grow exponentially."

The United Nations defines human trafficking as “the process by which a person is recruited to be controlled and held captive for the purpose of exploitation.” But, this authoritative definition doesn’t come close to providing a complete picture of the horror associated with this crime against humanity. Nor does it capture the magnitude and pervasiveness of 21st century slavery. And most importantly, it doesn’t account for the very personalized victimization happening in our own local communities.

Unfortunately, little attention has been paid to this national crime epidemic, unlike the "War on Drugs" and the stiff criminal penalties levied against the illegal distribution of weapons. All the while, this scourge of human trafficking continues to grow exponentially. Thankfully, however, some progress is being made.

Answering complexity

Here in Southern California, a groundbreaking public-private-philanthropy-partnership has been formed to curtail this problem. Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell recently helped form the L.A. Regional Human Trafficking Task Force to innovatively address human trafficking in all its forms. This task force is like no other.

The Regional Task Force combines a multitude of agencies across the federal, state and local law enforcement levels. But there’s more. Co-located teams, including child welfare, probation and community advocacy partners, now combat trafficking across jurisdictional and sector lines to leverage systems, resources and areas of expertise in a highly focused, collaborative effort. The task force embraces a survivor-centered approach and recognizes that attending to the needs of the survivors are just as important as law enforcement’s mission to investigate, arrest and prosecute perpetrators of slavery and trafficking to the fullest extent of the law.

This task force is a model for combating the root causes of trafficking, while also treating the devastation it inflicts on individuals, families and entire communities. We can only hope that regions across the country look to pilot, resource and scale similar multi-sector partnerships to finally put a dent in the number of trafficked and enslaved women, men and children right here, in our midst.