Federal prosecutor Mia Giacomazzi faces significant barriers to finding labor trafficking victims, a crime she said is hidden but takes place in local industries including housekeeping, agriculture and restaurants.
Giacomazzi, an assistant U.S. attorney based in Fresno, said that in the last three to five years, at least 42 people in the Fresno region have identified themselves as labor-trafficking victims. But victims like these are often too afraid to press charges. Her office, for example, has investigated less than five cases in the last three to five years.
“Labor trafficking really is modern-day slavery,” she said.
Advocates for victims of human trafficking and domestic violence convened Thursday in Fresno to discuss those issues from cultural and legal perspectives.
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The forum, hosted by the Fresno nonprofit Centro La Familia Advocacy Services, brought around 100 advocates to the Piccadilly Inn Airport hotel.
Margarita Rocha, executive director of the organization that primarily helps Latinos, said she hopes to work closer with law enforcement and organizations that serve other cultural groups. Rocha announced that Centro La Familia has embarked on a campaign this year to shed light on human trafficking and domestic violence. She said they’ll start by creating tools to help people identify and report the crimes and by demonstrating how they play out in various cultural settings.
Human trafficking is the illegal movement of people, typically as forced labor or for sexual exploitation. Victims of human trafficking can also be victims of domestic violence. Each year, an estimated 14,500 to 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States.
Sadly, Giacomazzi said, it’s easier to find victims of sex trafficking than forced labor because they either work outside or their information is posted online.
Lara Clinton, a deputy district attorney in Fresno County, said her typical sex trafficking cases involve young girls, often runaways, and often in urban neighborhoods within city limits. She said they are usually gang-related because they generate easy money.
“You can sell drugs only once,” she said. “But a girl can be sold over and over.”
Clinton said she sees younger sex trafficking victims lately, the youngest age 12. She has also seen women in their 40s being pimped by 18-year-old men. She said she knows other types of sex trafficking go unreported, such as immigrant women living in rural areas around Fresno.