Santa Barbara County law enforcement are attacking the modern form of slavery — human trafficking — with a $900,000 grant to the Sheriff’s Office from the U.S. Department of Justice. The Board of Supervisors approved receipt of the grant on Tuesday, which requires a 25 percent match from Sheriff’s Office personnel hours; the grant will fund a full-time detective on the Human Trafficking Investigations Unit for three years to hunt down sexual exploitation and forced labor by fraud or coercion. The District Attorney’s Office similarly won a $675,000 grant, which will go toward prosecution of perpetrators and also provide services for victims; that grant goes to the Board of Supervisors for approval on November 19.

The grants represent a second three-year cycle of funds in the county’s initiative to fight human trafficking. The first spanned 2016-2019 and nabbed seven convictions for pimping and pandering, two for statutory rape, and two for lewd and lascivious acts with a minor from among 84 total investigations by the sheriff’s unit. During the investigations, 87 people were taken from traffickers; among them were 82 females — 34 of whom were minors — and five males, three of whom were minors.

On the attorneys’ side, Megan Riker-Rheinschild, director of the DA’s Victim Witness Assistance Program, said 119 human-trafficking investigations opened in the past three years, compared to seven in the previous three years. They identified 97 traffickers, with 69 percent of them confirmed, she said. Of the trafficking survivors the DA’s Office identified, 42 percent were minors, and 96 percent were female. The DA’s grant also enabled dozens of trainings, in which 1,733 people took part, to recognize traffickers and the victims.

Santa Barbara County’s location between Northern and Southern California makes it a natural corridor for trafficking people for sex or labor, the sheriff’s report advised. Other attractants were the presence of tourists, transients, and migrant labor — “heavily influenced by the robust cannabis industry,” the report states — as well as California’s ranking among the top four locations in the U.S. for human trafficking.


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