Bay Area Human Rights Violations: Inadequate Policy to Combat Sex Trafficking in San Francisco

Paige Fisher

California is home to three of the FBI’s thirteen highest child sex trafficking regions in the United States: San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego.1 Ironically, San Francisco, a city known for its progressive thought and promotion of equality, is a top destination for sex trafficking. As such, stricter legislation needs to be enacted in order to combat such crimes.

The health effects of human trafficking include physical damage, increased likelihood of exposure to HIV/AIDS, psychological and mental health trauma, social stigma and increased alcohol or substance abuse.2 Survivors have reported anecdotes of food deprivation, isolation from people, broken bones, pelvic pain, health problems from abortions, scabies, lice, weight loss, coercion into abusing alcohol and illicit drugs, and oral, dental and mental health issues.3 Survivors may also suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety and memory problems.4 5 Such severe health consequences point toward the need for better policy.

Sex trafficking came under the spotlight in San Francisco after massage parlors raids in 2005; Operation Gilded Cage involved 400 law officials raiding eleven suspected brothels, arresting 27 people and taking 100 women to get help.6 Officials seized two million dollars in cash from just ten massage parlors. Though these facts are shocking, San Francisco police say, “The bust didn’t make a dent in the illegal sex trade.”7 The striking prevalence of sex trafficking begs for more policy.

Current policy in California, including the AB California Trafficking Victims Protection Act (CTVPA)8, Californians Against Sexual Exploitation (CASE) Act9 and other legislation,10 11 is still insufficient. The AB California Trafficking Victims Protection Act (CTVPA) was enacted in California in 2005. The act states that human trafficking is a felony crime punishable for up to five years of service in a state prison and up to eight years of service if the survivor is a minor. A major gap in this legislation is that sex trafficking a minor has no penalty if no force was used. In addition, while CTVPA comprehensively covers foreign trafficking, it largely overlooks domestic trafficking.12

More thorough and strict legislation regarding human trafficking could help San Francisco more effectively combat sex trafficking, as supported by findings from Project Lantern. During the Project Lantern study, International Justice Mission and Cebu’s local police charged about 100 suspected traffickers and rescued around 220 trafficking survivors. As a result, there was a 79% decrease in the number of minors vulnerable to sex trafficking and an increase in services for survivors of trafficking such as provision of shelters and counseling.13 These results suggest that strong and upheld legislation in a community can combat human trafficking and can help survivors directly and indirectly through community efforts. The results from this study hint at a safer San Francisco if the city increased and strengthened its anti-sex trafficking policies.

Human trafficking is occurring in San Francisco; this statement alone is all that should be needed to make change. It is time to hold San Francisco accountable to its image as a progressive city and ensure that it does truly continue its fight to uphold human rights, not just for those who are loud and proud on the streets, but also for the women and children hidden in the darkest parts of the city.

1. United States Department of Justice. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Efforts to Combat Crimes Against Children. January 2009. Available at: reports/FBI/a0908/final.pdf. Accessed October 2014.

2. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. An Introduction to Human Trafficking: Vulnerability, Impact and Action. Web. 1 Mar. 2014. Available at: Accessed October 2014.

3. Zimmerman et al. The health risks and consequences of trafficking in women and adolescents. Findings from a European study [online]. 2003. Available from: London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Accessed October 2014.

4. Hossain et al. The Relationship of Trauma to Mental Disorders Among Trafficked and Sexually Exploited Girls and Women [online]. 2010; 100.12: 2442-9. Accessed from: American Journal of Public Health. Accessed October 2014.

5. Oram, S. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Physical Health Symptoms Reported by Trafficked Women Receiving Post-trafficking Support in Moldova: Prevalence, Severity and Associated Factors. December 20, 2012. Available at: Accessed October 2014.

6. Van Derbeken, Jaxon and Kim, Ryan. SF Gate. Alleged sex-trade ring broken up in Bay Area. July 2, 2005. Available at: Accessed October 2014.

7. May, Meredith. SF Gate. Sex Trafficking: San Francisco Is a Major Center for International Crime Networks that Smuggle and Enslave. October 6, 2006. Available at: Accessed October 2014.

8. Vote Yes on 35: Stop Human Trafficking in California. Californians Against Sexual Exploitation. Current Laws Against Human Trafficking. Available at: Accessed October 2014.

9. Gascon, George. San Francisco Distract Attorney’s Office. California Human Trafficking Laws. 2013. Available at: showdocument.aspx?documentid=2126. Accessed October 2014.

10. Office of the Attorney General. State of California Department of Justice. “Trafficking Legislation.” 2012. Available at: Accessed October 2014.

11. Office of the Attorney General. State of California Department of Justice. “Trafficking Legislation.” 2012. Available at: Accessed October 2014.

12. Vote Yes on 35: Stop Human Trafficking in California. “Current Laws Against Human Trafficking.” Californians Against Sexual Exploitation.

13. International Justice Mission. Project Lantern Results Summary. 2010. Available at: Accessed October 2014.