The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

Got a tip? Have something you need to tell us? Contact us

Loading Recent Classifieds...

Human Trafficking a major problem in Los Angeles

It has been called “invisible” and “underground.”

And it continues to prompt some CSUN professors to educate students about the problem that exist in Los Angeles farms, sweatshops and homes.

“Human trafficking is a huge problem,” said Marta Lopez-Garza, Women’s Studies Department chair. “It’s so invisible. It can be right under our noses.”

Human trafficking is a form of immigration that occurs all over the world, including in the United States. It occurs when someone is taken from one location to another, and is exploited, deceived and forced to work, among other tasks, on farms, in sweatshops or as prostitutes.

Los Angeles alone has had many documented incidents of forced labor.

While trafficked for sex, a number of women are subject to violence, including rape, said Dianne Bartlow, Women’s Studies professor.

“Over one million women and children are sold into prostitution all over the world,” Bartlow said. “In the U.S., about 50,000 women are trafficked a year.”

There are certain cities traffickers prefer to bring people into, and Los Angeles is among the top of the list of locations, said Imelda Buncab, national program director of the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, a Los Angeles-based organization that works directly with survivors of human trafficking. CAST also helps survivors resettle in the United States by teaching them to become self-sufficient through job training.

The survivors are offered ESL classes and taught how to make medical appointments and utilize public transportation, Buncab said.

According to a 2005 study by the Human Rights Center of the University of California, Berkley covering 1998-2003, there have been 500 documented incidents of human trafficking in the form of sex slavery, workshop and domestic labor in California. “In my conversations with the (Los Angeles Police Department) years ago, they busted a sex trafficking ring (that was run) by Russian organized crime,” Buncab said.

According to an LAPD December 2002 press release, the investigation was called “Operation White Lace.”

The six ringleaders, who were eventually indicted, were accused of employing smuggled Russian women and earning $5 million to $8 million off of them in the greater Los Angeles and Beverly Hills areas, according to the press release.

Buncab said she has seen 40-year sentences given to those accused of trafficking humans.

“Los Angeles is among the top three destinations because of the amount of immigration,” Buncab said. “It’s a challenge to find the victims because they don’t know how to identify themselves.”

Although human trafficking is against the law, it is a thriving and very profitable industry, Bartlow said.

Women are brought from all over the world, including countries such as Russia, Asia, Africa, Yugoslavia and nations in Eastern Europe, said Breny Mendoza, a Women’s Studies Department professor and director of the Women’s Resource and Research Center.

Human trafficking exists due to a number of factors in the world such as globalization, the economy and women in the work force, Mendoza said.

The lack of jobs and low wages in home countries may be due to corporations expanding into other countries, giving jobs with low wages, Lopez- Garza said.

Globalization forces people to migrate to a country for a job and a better life, Lopez-Garza said, adding that human traffickers tend to persuade these people by promising them a job and more money.

“The main reason people migrate is for work,” Lopez-Garza said. “People get caught into human trafficking because they want to work, but little do they know is that they will be put in a sweat shop or even prostitution. Many work here as slaves.”

Most of the criminals involved in human trafficking work with criminal organizations and gangs, she said.

These criminal organizations and gangs have many connections all over the world, and that makes it difficult to track them down and make arrests, Lopez-Garza said.

“It’s so underground,” she said. “To find it, it’s almost finding a whole crime ring.”

In most cases, women are used for domestic servitude and are not allowed to leave the home.

Referrals from women who are under the oppression of sex-slave operations that CAST receives come from trusted members of the victim’s community, Buncab said, adding that in some cases the neighborhood’s postal worker will deliver messages to and from the home.

Buncab held a talk at the CSUN Women’s Resource and Research Center regarding the issue of human trafficking last fall.

“Interest about this topic goes beyond women’s studies, as there were students of all majors at the event,” Mendoza said.

The talk was also used to inspire the students in her community involvement class to choose CAST as the organization to work with over the course of a semester, she said.

Students in the class last semester had seven organizations to choose from to do volunteer work at, but none chose to volunteer for CAST last fall, Mendoza said.

Mendoza plans to teach the class again next fall, and the class will focus more on human trafficking and having students work with CAST.

“I do want to do it in 2006,” Mendoza said. “I really want students to volunteer this time with CAST.”

CAST usually prefers a long-term commitment, with the training going on for six months, but Mendoza said the organization is willing to make an exception for CSUN students by letting the training go on for a semester at 30 hours per week.

“We are just beginning to talk about teaching this class together in the future,” Mendoza said.

The issue of human trafficking is familiar to women’s studies students because the issue is discussed in several classes, Mendoza said.

Professors in the Women’s Studies Department bring up human trafficking because it is an issue that is complex and can only be understood by getting to the sources of the problem, Lopez-Garza said.

“The problem is how people see it,” Lopez-Garza said. “They don’t realize it’s a global issue. Once we study, the better we understand it.”

Oscar Areliz can be reached at Ariana Rodriguez can be reached at

More to Discover