Labor Trafficking: Strategies to Help Victims and Bring Traffickers to Justice

Report #252, October 2020


Each year thousands of Californians fall prey to human trafficking, including hundreds who are exploited for the value of their labor, and California must do more to help these survivors and to bring traffickers to justice, says the state’s independent government watchdog.

The Little Hoover Commission today released Labor Trafficking: Strategies to Help Victims and Bring Traffickers to Justice, the agency’s third and final report stemming from a year-long investigation into the state’s response to labor trafficking.

The report provides new data about the extent of the problem, based on an analysis of records from a key state program that provides help to trafficking victims. That analysis shows that:

  • Between 2016 and 2019, more than 14,000 human trafficking survivors received help from the state, including more than 3,000 who were classified as being exploited for their labor. (The remainder were exploited for sex.)
  • More than one-quarter of the survivors helped by the state were under 18.
  • African-Americans were disproportionately impacted, accounting for more than a third of those who received help.
  • Those seeking help for labor trafficking are disproportionately located in the Central Valley.

“Too little has been known about labor trafficking in the past, and we hope that this report provides policymakers with new information about this horrific crime,” said Commission Chair Pedro Nava. “Still better information can lead to a stronger response and more work is needed to understand the prevalence of this crime.”

The report analyzes raw data from only a single state program, Nava noted, and thus it is highly likely that far more people are victimized each year by traffickers. This is especially true for labor trafficking, which is often even harder to detect than trafficking for purposes of sexual exploitation.

The data analyzed by Commission staff comes from the Office of Emergency Services’ Human Trafficking Victim Assistance Program. The Commission is grateful to OES for providing the raw data, which did not identify individual survivors, but allowed for an analysis of all those helped by the program, Nava said.

“This is a significant first step to understanding more about who the victims of trafficking are and how we can better direct resources to serve and protect them,” said Commissioner Cynthia Buiza, chair of the Commission’s subcommittee for the labor trafficking studies.

While causing serious harm to victims, perpetrators of this crime also steal from the state and undercut legitimate businesses. The report urges a strong state response, recommending that policymakers prioritize victim services for survivors while increasing investigations and prosecutions of traffickers.

In its report, the Commission also focuses on the numerous barriers hindering the enforcement of labor trafficking laws, including costly and time-consuming investigations, difficulty proving non-physical coercion or force, lack of adequate training for law enforcement and court personnel, and more. The report describes steps taken by the federal government, other states, and some California counties to address these barriers and calls upon state officials to take similar actions.

“It is unacceptable that perpetrators of this despicable crime are too often not held accountable,” Nava said. “Our recommendations will transform California’s ability to bring these evildoers to justice and ensure that survivors receive the care they need.”

All too often, law enforcement lacks the tools, training, and resources to respond to labor trafficking, the Commission found.

Earlier this year the Commission released two reports about trafficking. This is the Commission’s third report studying California’s response to human trafficking. Its first report on the subject, released in June 2020, calls for the creation of a statewide Anti-Human Trafficking Council. Its second report, released in September 2020, implores officials to increase efforts to identify labor trafficking.

Commissioner Dion Aroner, a member of the study’s subcommittee, noted the importance of viewing this report along with the Commission’s two previous reports on labor trafficking. “We are providing state officials with a comprehensive roadmap for lasting change that will enable California to more effectively combat labor trafficking and protect innocent workers.”

Written testimony from hearing witnesses can be found in the corresponding event agenda.

Get help: If you believe you may have information about a human trafficking situation, the National Human Trafficking Hotline can help. Call toll-free at 1-888-373-7888 or text at 233-733 (Be Free). If you fear a victim is in immediate danger, please contact 911 to report his/her location to the police.

Relevant Reports

(Report #251, September 2020)
(Report #250, June 2020)

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