Though slavery has been illegal in the United States since 1863, one abhorrent flavor still persists in the form of human trafficking.
The crime includes any sort of behavior that uses force to recruit or transport people into a position where they can be exploited, whether it be for labor, sex or other purposes.
Not only has human trafficking not been stifled, it seems to have worsened. Cuts to budget and grant programs have squeezed those who try to stop this type of activity, like local police and non-profit groups.
At the same time, advocates complain there are not enough solid statistics on human trafficking to make the case for more money.
This has led to a lack of expertise and personnel to fight the problem in the Bay Area, according to an ambitious special report from the SF Public Press. SF police officers receive only a half-hour of training on human trafficking every two years.
To complicate the situation further, local police departments and advocacy groups have been forced to fight over the limited resources that are available.
It appears, however, that greater efforts are being made despite the challenges. Last fall, Police Chief Greg Suhr reformed the human trafficking team, relocating two dedicated investigators to a new special victims unit.
The shift in focus may be already paying off: in early 2012, the San Francisco police department reported uncovering a major international labor trafficking case involving multiple victims throughout the Bay Area. The case was handed off to the U.S. District Attorney’s Office for prosecution without releasing many details.
Under current law, those convicted of human trafficking can receive a maximum of only eight years in prison, compared with 15 to life in federal prison.
Advocates and lawmakers are looking into how these punishments could be increased, including a citizen drive to put an initiative on the November 2012 ballot.