Trafficking in Marin

“Human sex trafficking is hidden but thriving in Marin”, according to the 2016 Marin County Civil Grand Jury report: Marin’s Hidden Human Sex Trafficking Challenge  It’s Happening in Our Backyard.⁴ The Grand Jury determined that despite the Bay Area being one of the largest trafficking markets in the U.S., many Marin citizens have little to no awareness that trafficking is happening in our community.

DeAnna Schlau from Community Violence Solutions, a nonprofit organization that helps victims of trafficking and other forms of sexual abuse with multiple service sites throughout the Bay Area, stated that “Marin has had an attitude for a long time that it doesn’t really happen here, and we’re just getting on board with the fact that it really does happen here.”⁴ ¹⁵

Why Is Trafficking Occurring in Marin?

  • Marin is part of the Bay Area, one of the largest hubs for trafficking in the U. S.  Victims are transported around the greater Bay Area on routes in and out of Marin.⁴
  • Much of Marin is located along the highway 101 corridor making transportation easy. 
  • Victims in Marin represent all socioeconomic groups including Marin residents and non-residents, rich and poor, youth, teens and adults, and domestic and international victims.⁴
  • Marin is home to many wealthy families and “johns” who are able to pay with cash, thus enabling traffickers to charge more.⁴
  • Drug abuse, domestic abuse, depression, child neglect, and use of pornography occur in Marin and put children, teens, and adults at risk. 
  • Children and teens in higher income bracket families are vulnerable as they often spend much time alone.
  • Children and teens whose internet use is not monitored have an increased risk of communicating with men who are looking for victims.⁴
  • The most prevalent form of human trafficking is Romeo pimping, in which human traffickers seduce young girls and women so they can later exploit them.¹⁶
  • Refugees, often from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, come to this country seeking opportunity, and are often preyed upon.  The victims are targeted through a variety of venues, from social media websites, at malls, schools, bus stations and on the street.¹⁶
  • Human sex trafficking is most often found in San Rafael, Novato, and Marin City,⁴ though it also occurs throughout the county. Every area of Marin County is at risk.
  • Trafficking takes place in most, if not all, Marin hotels and motels including some of the more respected chains.⁴

The average age of solicitation is 12-14 years of age, which is middle school. ⁴ ⁸ ¹⁰

According to (former) Marin County Deputy District Attorney Chuck Cacciatore, “Generally we are seeing Marin residents who are human trafficking victims, but we also see victims from out of the area. Pimps have sex workers on a circuit.” Marin County Deputy District Attorney Nicole Pantaleo points out about half of the victims with whom she works are from Marin County.⁴

Oakland, California, in the San Francisco Bay Area, has been dubbed by the FBI as a "high-intensity child prostitution area." Oakland officials say that 1/3 of teenage girls working in prostitution there were abducted and forced onto the streets, and 61% of teen prostitutes say they were raped as children.¹⁰ Marin County is 25 miles from Oakland.  Trafficking routes from Oakland and the rest of the Bay area are used daily in and out of Marin.

A report from Community Violence Solutions states that approximately 1/3 of the victims it aided in Marin between March 2015 and March 2016 were under the age of 18.⁴

In 2014, Emily Sims, founder of West Marin Advocacy, worked with 30 survivors of sex or labor trafficking, some of whom were native to Marin, and others who were trafficked into the county from other places. Again, 1/3 of these victims were youth under age of 18. Some of the youth survivors Emily Sims has worked with have been high school students from Tam and Novato.⁴ ¹⁵

Many of the survivors Sims has counseled in Marin fell victim to bullying in high school.¹⁵

In Emily Sim’s research, “Law Enforcement and Social Service Responses to Human Trafficking in Marin County,” she found that counselors working with women receiving treatment for alcohol and drug dependency reported the presence of forced prostitution related to intergenerational aspects of family violence, substance abuse, and poverty. Social service providers working with juvenile populations attribute the rise of the Internet as a factor in the solicitation of underage prostitutes by organized traffickers. Law enforcement personnel and faith-based organizations recognize the role low-cost motels play in facilitating the trafficking of juvenile and adult victims of sexual servitude.⁵

Marin County Sheriff’s Sgt. Brad Kashack urges parents to keep children safe, and to always be aware of who their children are talking with on the internet.¹⁶

Comprehensive statistics on human trafficking in Marin are hard to come by, just as they are nationally, for several reasons: 1) the hidden nature of the crime makes it difficult to pursue cases; 2) the highly labor intensive investigations that are required to pursue cases; 3) there is currently a lack of resources devoted to pursuing trafficking cases in Marin on a full time basis; and 4) the crime itself is under-reported largely because of the complexity of the crime and because Marin has no comprehensive data base to track it.

For example, a victim who reaches out for help to the Department of Health and Human Services or a non-profit group like Center for Domestic Peace, might never contact law enforcement. This happens now. 

Each organization keeps its own data, but there is no central data base. Since the recommendation by the Marin County Grand Jury to develop a county-wide comprehensive data base,⁴ there will probably be steps taken by organizations to formulate one in the near future.

Gaps

When a community or nation deals proactively with a complex issue like Human Trafficking, gap areas or areas of needed improvement always show up. This is a good thing as it shows which critical improvements need the most attention.     

To reduce human trafficking in Marin County, the following critical improvements are needed:⁴ ⁵  

  1. Increased awareness
  2. Increased resources
  3. Training for law enforcement, service agencies, parents, children, schools, hotel/motel owners, and the community at large
  4. Housing for victims, and
  5. Comprehensive statistics on human trafficking in Marin County

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