Orange County a Big, Lucrative Market for Sex Trafficking

The following information was published in the Orange County Register, September 13, 2016.


A new report has led those who work with victims of human trafficking to an unsavory conclusion about Orange County’s wealth: Perpetrators know they can bring victims here to sell for sex acts at a higher price than anywhere else in California.

“Whatever the price in Los Angeles County, whatever the price in San Diego County, it’s going to be twice the price in Orange County and it’s going to be worth the trip for them,” said Lita Mercado, an administrator with the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force, which will release its annual report today.

This is the fourth year that the task force, a partnership of law enforcement, service providers, nonprofits and faith organizations, has produced its Human Trafficking Victim Report.

Members of the task force, including Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and local police chiefs, will discuss the report and local strategy to combat human trafficking at a news conference this morning.

For the first time, the task force report looks at the origins of victims who have been rescued in Orange County, along with the origins of perpetrators who have been prosecuted here.

The majority in both cases are from other California counties or out of state, the report says, based on a review of data from 2012 to 2015 by Community Service Programs, administrator of the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force.

Of 231 domestic sex trafficking victims studied over the three-year period, only 22 percent were from Orange County. Of the remainder, 56 percent hailed from other California counties and another 22 percent from out of state.

Sex trafficking accounted for the exploitation of more than three-fourths of the 137 new victims of human trafficking identified and assisted with services last year in Orange County, according to the report.

A total of 225 human trafficking victims were being provided services in Orange County in 2015, a number that includes people brought here to perform labor and victims identified the previous year.

The vast majority of victims were adult females, the report shows.

“Orange County is clearly a destination location,” said Mercado, director of victims assistance programs for CSP. “The victims are being brought here specifically and purposely because the perpetrators know there is a demand here for forced sex.”

Mercado said the youngest victim receiving services from her program was 13 and the oldest was 60.

Harbor and Beach boulevards, with their density of motels and hotels, are major sex trafficking corridors and Orange County, based on what perpetrators tell police, is a highly lucrative market, Mercado added.

“What pimps and traffickers are saying to us is they can up the price and they know they are going to get takers,” Mercado said.

Los Angeles County is different from Orange County, Mercado said, in that most of the human trafficking victims and perpetrators there are homegrown.

The top 10 hometowns in California of trafficking victims assisted in Orange County included Los Angeles at No. 1, and three local municipalities: Anaheim, Santa Ana and Fullerton.

The report does not look at the sex purchasers, or “johns” in the common vernacular, to review whether they are mostly locals or travelers from elsewhere.

Since its formation in 2004, the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force has helped more than 580 sex and labor trafficking victims, adults and minors.

In addition to an increased focus by law enforcement to crack down on human trafficking and growing outreach by social service programs to assist victims, the task force has worked to raise public awareness.

A major federally funded campaign launched in 2014, called “Be The One” or BT1, involved ads on Orange County Transportation Authority buses and at bus shelters, along with training more than 1,100 OCTA drivers on how to spot victims of human trafficking aboard their buses.

Mercado credits public awareness efforts for increasing the number of calls made statewide to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. California has had more calls to that hotline than any other state, Mercado said.

Theresa Walker is a Southern California native who has been a staff writer at The Orange County Register since 1992. She specializes in human interest stories and social issues, such as homelessness. She also covers nonprofits and philanthropy in Orange County. She loves telling stories about ordinary people who do the extraordinary in their communities.

And in March, 2017:

IRVINE ( — Authorities say they’ve uncovered a massive international sex trafficking ring in Southern California.

Prosecutors announced the arrest of four people connected to the Orange County-based enterprise that allegedly placed thousands of ads for sexual services in 29 states over the past two years.

Human trafficking knows no economic boundaries….Human trafficking is not just in low income areas….It is right here in our backyard.

Come and join us on January 25, 2018 to hear our panel on Human Trafficking.  It is one of the most important programs of the year.  You can still RSVP.

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