A $1.2 million federal grant is underwriting Costra Costa County’s Human Trafficking Task Force, said representatives of the county’s Employment and Human Services Department and the District Attorney’s Office.
The grant was awarded through the Federal Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) to establish the new task force, said Alan Wang, of the Employment and Human Services Department, and Scott Alonso of the Contra Costas County District Attorney’s Office, in their joint announcement.
That coalition was formed jointly in 2009 with the Office of the District Attorney, EHSD and other partners to address human trafficking in the county and beyond to the greater Bay Area. The task force will be an enhancement of that coalition, the announcement said.
The task force’s core team will be led by two co-chairpersons, Assistant District Attorney Venus D. Johnson and Director of the Alliance to End Abuse Devorah Levine. The two leaders are to ensure effective, efficient collaboration among investigators, prosecutors and providers of victim support and services.
In another approach to fighting trafficking in Contra Costa County, District Attorney Diana Becton recently established a Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit within her office, to staffed by Deputy District Attorney Dana Filkowski, described in the announcement as “a dedicated sex trafficking prosecutor.”
“Our law enforcement partners will be able to focus on the growing problems associated with human trafficking in our community with this task force,” Becton said.
“We know that sharing confidential information and conducting complex investigations is challenging and resource intensive. However, with this new framework, we can prosecute those perpetrators who often times go unnoticed and provide comprehensive services to victims of trafficking,” she said.
The announcement said the new Human Trafficking Task Force of Contra Costa County will unite state and federal law enforcement agencies with victim service organizations to improve identification of all types of human trafficking victims; to enhance investigation and prosecution of all types of human trafficking; to provide or refer human trafficking victims to comprehensive services; to make law enforcement, service providers and the Contra Costa community at large more aware of human trafficking; and to improve practices related to victims’ trauma.
Task Force partners on the law enforcement side will be led by the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s office. Those partners include such agencies as the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation. and local law enforcement agencies.
On the victims’ side, Task Force partners will be led by Contra Costa County’s Alliance to End Abuse, and include Calli House Youth Shelter (Contra Costa Behavioral Health Services), Community Violence Solutions, Bay Area Legal Aid, International Rescue Committee, and STAND! For Families Free of Violence.
The statement said the FBI has identified California as one of the nation’s top destination states for trafficked persons and that Contra Costa County is a natural corridor for human trafficking activities.
Alhough human trafficking is illegal, victims often do not know where to turn for help, and community members may not know where to report suspicious situations, the joint statement said.
“We have to keep raising awareness with the public and our law enforcement partners about the real threats that human trafficking poses to Contra Costa County,” Becton stated.