A public-awareness campaign was launched Friday that targets human trafficking by reaching out to potential victims through local businesses and facilities.
In an event marking Human Trafficking Awareness Month, San Francisco officials said they are launching efforts this month to contact local businesses required by a recent state law to post anti-human trafficking notices.
Senate Bill 1193, by state Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), requires certain businesses and facilities to post notices advertising telephone tip lines for human trafficking.
Businesses affected include many where human trafficking victims might be present, including bars, strip clubs, airports, public transit stations, emergency rooms, airports, job recruitment centers, massage establishments and other adult or sexually oriented businesses.
"We need to uncover the hidden problem of human trafficking and these posters go a long way to educating the public and human trafficking survivors about whom they can call for help," said Emily Murase, executive director of the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women.
Human trafficking can take various forms, and victims can be found in a wide range of industries including sex work, domestic work, agriculture and manufacturing, hospitality and restaurants and others, officials said. Some victims are lured in from overseas with promises of a better life, while others are U.S. citizens, often youth fleeing abuse at home.
San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr said his department had been working aggressively to train officers in recognizing and assisting victims of human trafficking and investigating cases.
District Attorney George Gascon said prosecutors had worked with nonprofits to establish a hotline that can help victims access services or provide a tip to police.
In addition, regional law enforcement agencies are now working with consulates from a number of countries to identify and work with human trafficking victims who contact consular officials for help.
Gascon noted that it was difficult to know the full extent of the problem.
"The reality is that this is probably one of the most underreported crimes in our community," he said. "It's a form of modern day slavery, there's really no other way to put it."
Despite efforts to combat human trafficking, the U.S remains a major transit and destination country for victims, as well as a source, according to U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag.
California is among the top three states in the country for human trafficking activity, Haag said.
In addition to the business outreach, the city will also distribute the winning poster from the Anti-Human Trafficking Teen Poster Contest, with the motto "No One Owns Me," to all schools in San Francisco.
The winning poster was designed by Mary-Claire Amable, Tin Dinh and Lauren Hernandez, 12th graders at Woodside International School. Featuring a teddy bear, the poster is intended to signify the lost innocence experienced by victims of human trafficking, Amable said.