Bakersfield Mayor Karen Goh officially declared January "Human Trafficking Awareness Month" during an event held in downtown Bakersfield on Tuesday.
The Kern County Coalition Against Human Trafficking put on the event in an effort to shed light on a problem that's rampant in Kern County. The organization says Kern County acts as a "proving ground" for sex traffickers because areas like Union Ave. are smaller and allow traffickers to control their victims. Once done here, traffickers can then move victims to larger hubs like Las Vegas or Los Angeles.
Doug Bennett with Magdalene Hope says his organization saw roughly 250 women for sale in the streets and online per month in 2009; now, he says they see anywhere between 750 and 1,000 women for sale in a given month in Bakersfield.
Experts say there are things you can look out for when it comes to spotting human trafficking:
- Look for people who are not free to come and go, or appear to be held against their will
- Look for people who do not hold their own documentation (for example, when a women is asked for documentation, watch for a man who holds her identification or speaks for her).
- Watch for controlling relationships.
- Keep an eye out for padlocks on the outside of doors or barbed wire that points in; these are signs that someone could be being held against their will.
Bakersfield Police have made two human trafficking arrests in 2018 so far, including one involving a minor. You can visit the Polaris Project for more information on human trafficking, and if you see any evidence of trafficking, call the Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. You can also contact the Kern County Sheriff's Office at 661-861-3110 or the Bakersfield Police Department at 661-327-7111.