Hundreds Arrested in California Human Trafficking Mission

Hundreds Arrested in California Human Trafficking Mission
Downtown Los Angeles, Calif., on Jan. 20, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Jamie Joseph

LOS ANGELES—California law enforcement officials announced on Feb. 15 they arrested hundreds of suspects this week in an annual human trafficking operation, called Operation Reclaim and Rebuild, and rescued more than 80 victims, 8 of whom were children.

All of the victims were female and were local to California, authorities said, noting they had not found evidence of trafficking across state or international lines.

The operation was an effort across several departments, including the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles Police Department in cooperation with the Los Angeles Regional Human Trafficking Task Force and over 80 federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies from across California.

Despite some media outlets and academic journals calling the link between large events and human trafficking a myth, authorities said otherwise.

Alan Smyth, Executive Director of Saving Innocence—an anti-human trafficking advocacy organization—told reporters there is a “false narrative” being peddled by media outlets that “there is not an uptick” in human trafficking activity around major events.

“I can tell you from an agency that is on the ground embedded with advocates and survivors that that is a false narrative. We have seen repeatedly, over and over again, an uptick with our services that is required,” Smyth said.

In total, the operation resulted in arrests of 200 alleged sex buyers and 34 suspected traffickers.

“LA is one of the five top spots in the nation for human trafficking,” Sheriff Alex Villanueva told reporters in the Hall of Justice on Feb. 15. “And we have year-round venues of multiple attractions, so we are an attractive magnet.”

A massage parlor in Los Angeles County on Aug. 4, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
A massage parlor in Los Angeles County on Aug. 4, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Villanueva said it’s “disturbing” there is a lack of prosecution for many of the crimes involving human trafficking, and that most are charged as misdemeanors under District Attorney George Gascón’s special orders.

“Our department alone in the year 2021, we had 12,074 cases across all crimes they were not prosecuted by the district attorney pursuant specifically to his special orders,” Villanueva said.

Gascón was not immediately available for comment.

Authorities said these numbers reflect a typical week in LA County and that there is always a link between mega-events and an increase in human trafficking activity.

Law enforcement officials made a total of 413 arrests during the operation between Feb. 6 and Feb. 12.

The sheriff said Gascón will only turn an ear to progressive groups, despite several attempts by the sheriff’s department to reach out to the district attorney’s office to discuss case prosecutions. But they will try to meet with him to talk about the trafficking cases, Villanueva said.

Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva in Los Angeles on Feb.2, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva in Los Angeles on Feb.2, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Officials were on high alert leading up to the sold-out Super Bowl event with more than 70,000 attendees from across the country.

In a Feb. 11 opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times, LA Police Chief Michael Moore said “14 individuals were arrested for sex trafficking-related offenses at a single hotel associated with Super Bowl activities, with a number of those arrested traveling from other regions of the country.

“Isolated? Not at all.”

The Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) also partnered with It’s a Penalty—a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending human trafficking in partnership with the National Football League (NFL) prior to the Super Bowl.

“We ask our guests to continue to be vigilant and if you see something, say something,” LAX spokesman Heath Montgomery told The Epoch Times in a previous interview. “Public vigilance plays a huge role in aviation security, and this includes reporting suspected human trafficking.”

Jamie is a California-based reporter covering issues in Los Angeles and state policies for The Epoch Times. In her free time, she enjoys reading nonfiction and thrillers, going to the beach, studying Christian theology, and writing poetry. You can always find Jamie writing breaking news with a cup of tea in hand.
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