A statewide operation last week aimed at reducing human trafficking resulted in 510 arrests and more than 50 adult and juvenile women having been saved, authorities said Tuesday.
“‘Operation Reclaim and Rebuild’ was a three-day assault on one of the most heinous crimes of modern times: The sexual exploitation of another human being for profit,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell.
McDonnell’s comments were made at a news conference on Tuesday in downtown L.A. as he was joined by L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, Kay Buck, CEO of the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking and others.
The fourth annual “Operation Reclaim and Rebuild” operation took place between Thursday and Saturday with more than 80 participating federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and task forces, authorities said.
It was held in conjunction with Human Trafficking Awareness Month.
At Tuesday’s news conference, McDonnell said of the 510 arrests there were 30 suspected traffickers and 178 “Johns” apprehended. The more than 50 saved from sex trafficking included 45 adults and 11 juveniles, he added.
“The results of our 2018 operation speak volumes about that crime,” McDonnell said.
Buck, of the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, described the partnership with the L.A. Regional Human Trafficking Task Force as “crucial.”
“Victims are taught to distrust by all the lies that traffickers tell them about law enforcement and about their own value as human beings,” Buck said. “This task force provides for that window of opportunity to start to trust again.”
Additionally, Buck said, C.A.S.T. spearheaded a first-of-its-kind data collection effort during the operation and 18 agencies statewide provided information.
Buck said 101 survivors and young women at risk were provided with basic necessities, food and clothing.
“Something that their traffickers made sure that they never had before,” Buck said. “They slept in a warm bed and safe bed supported by expert shelter staff: not under the watch of the trafficker.”
L.A. District Attorney Jackie Lacey said her office has advocates for victims while prosecutors continue their work to secure long sentences and convictions “for those who force young girls and women and boys into prostitution.”
Typically, victims of sex trafficking are around the age of 15 or 16, said Lt. Kent Wegener, of the L.A. County sheriff’s Human Trafficking Bureau.
“They come from broken homes,” Wegener said. “Often times, they’re put into foster care or have probation violations. Pimps know who to look for. They know who is able to be exploited. They know who is easy to manipulate. They know who is looking for love and acceptance because they never got it in life.”
The human trafficking bureau monitors the streets and the internet, where decoy ads are placed online or decoy users are on Instagram and Facebook looking “vulnerable,” Wegener said.
“Believe me, the pimps and the exploiters are on the internet and they’re looking for girls that fit that characteristic,” Wegener said. “If they look like they’re upset with their parents, if they look like they want to branch out with the bad boy, those are the ones they target,” he said.
If these online pimps end up talking to the decoys and recruiting them into sex trafficking, Wegener said, “that’s when we meet and we introduce them to the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.”