By Isabel Angell
Last week, the FBI rescued 105 children from sex-trafficking rings across the country, including 12 in San Francisco, the most of any city. The bureau says San Francisco is one of the major hubs of child trafficking in the United States.
On Friday, at a conference put on by the San Francisco Coalition Against Human Trafficking (SFCAHT), nearly 200 people gathered to brainstorm about how to change that.
Minouche Kandel, a policy director at the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women, said she hoped concrete recommendations would emerge on how to help victims and prevent trafficking. Kandel said most children trafficked in the U.S. are American citizens, with 60 percent having resided in foster care before being exploited by traffickers.
“They were in the foster care system, so these are children we have the responsibility for,” Kandel said. “They’re coming through our city agencies, and we need to look at what we can do to prevent them from being trafficked sexually.”
Nancy Goldberg, who co-chairs SFCAHT, says awareness is a big problem in San Francisco. For example, Goldberg said, many runaways go to the area around Post and Powell streets, a tourist destination, looking for help — but pimps troll the area and scoop them up before they understand what’s going on.
“I always say that people stand in line at Post and Powell and the cable cars will take you to the stars,” Goldberg said. “But they don’t realize that behind these stars (turns) out to be an illusion for an awful lot of kids.”
At the conference, state Sen. Leland Yee said that having a 6-month-old granddaughter has inspired him to work on legislation that addresses human trafficking. Lee’s bill has passed the Senate unanimously and is headed to the Assembly.
Advocates say trafficked individuals who are forced into sex work are often arrested as prostitutes rather than rescued from their captors. Yee said legislation he’s sponsoring will ensure those who are trafficked are treated like crime victims.
“I think law enforcement has kind of treated them as criminals, and we’ve got to understand that these are really not criminals, they’re victims, survivors of human trafficking,” Yee said.
San Francisco City Supervisor Katy Tang is also pursuing legislation on the issue, designed to curb trafficking in the city. Tang is going after massage parlors, which she said often provide a cover for sex workers in her neighborhood in the Sunset District. Raids on massage parlors have shown sex workers are often the victims of trafficking and are sometimes under age, she said.
Tang said her legislation would make it tougher to open a massage parlor as a front for a brothel.
“If you are applying for a permit for a massage establishment and you have been convicted or charged with certain crimes such as human trafficking or sexual assault, anything related to harming another individual, then you can actually be denied a permit,” she said.
Tang said she was shocked to learn that sex acts in massage parlors are not illegal under San Francisco’s health code, so many perpetrators have been escaping punishment on appeal. Her legislation would officially ban sex acts in massage parlors.