Text by Visalia Police Chief Jason Salazar

On Dec. 28, 2016, President Barack Obama declared the month of January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. It’s unfortunate that in the year 2018, the issues of slavery and human trafficking are such a prevalent issue that continues to be a public safety concern not just on an international and national scale – but one that has very real and significant consequences right here at home. 

Human trafficking is one of the fastest-growing and most profitable criminal industries in the world. The most common forms of human trafficking are for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labor – both are forms of modern-day slavery in which victims are controlled by their traffickers through the use of force, fraud or coercion for sex or labor services. Traffickers generally recruit their victims via online social media platforms, public venues such as malls, or wherever they can manipulate or exploit vulnerable populations. 

The Visalia Police Department participates in the Tulare County Human Trafficking Task Force, led by the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office. The task force seeks to train and better prepare first responders to recognize human-trafficking-related crimes, prosecutes human-trafficking crimes, coordinates enforcement activities to target human-trafficking activities, and seeks to educate the public about human trafficking. 

The Visalia Police Department is committed to working with our local partners through targeted enforcement activities and bringing public awareness to this issue so that we can all work together to put a stop to human trafficking. Education is a key component to stemming the tide of human trafficking.

Shelley Ellis and Zach Green, members of a recent Leadership Visalia class through the Visalia Chamber of Commerce, produced a short film entitled “Preying on Innocents” that documents efforts of Operation Babyface, led by the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office, to target human traffickers exploiting children. A Golden West High School student recently tackled the issue of human trafficking in a research paper.

It is only through persistent law enforcement partnerships that target human-trafficking activities and through courageous voices in our communities that are willing to bring awareness to this human tragedy that we can make a difference and stop them.

For more information and statistics about human trafficking, visit the National Human Trafficking Hotline website at humantraffickinghotline.org or call 1-(888) 373-7888 to request help. As always, you can contact your local law enforcement agency to report suspicious activity.

Some common warning signs are sudden changes in behavior, unusual attachment to cellphones, signs of emotional distress, controlling relationships, chronic running away, fear, etc. It’s always important to remember that if you see something, say something.