Agencies step up fight against growing human trafficking in Fresno

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Every other day this year in Fresno, a victim of human trafficking has been rescued from a life of prostitution.

Some were runaways; others may have been contacted through social media.

"I think we think of this as an issue where people are brought in, but that's not the case," said Sarah Johnston with Fresno EOC. "The majority of individuals that are being trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation within the city of Fresno are domestic."

Fresno Mayor Lee Brand introduced a Human Trafficking Initiative, designed to prosecute traffickers and get victims off the streets. It brings together several local agencies and departments.

"The fact that slavery exists in the world and especially here in the Central Valley is unacceptable," Brand said.

The collaborative approach involves law enforcement, church-based groups, schools, and non-profits.

Parkway Drive along Highway 99 has long been a trouble spot. A recent sweep netted 25 arrests.

Authorities will also step up enforcement along the Blackstone Avenue corridor.

The push also aims to crack down on illegal activity at massage parlors.

Raising awareness of a growing problem is critical. Prostitution has been very lucrative for gangs.

"We know that gangs used to sell drugs. They still do," said Fresno police chief Jerry Dyer. "But you can only sell a drug one time. You can sell a female over and over again."

Once victims are rescued, they're connected with support services.

The initiative also hopes to reduce human trafficking through education.

"The end result is to protect the children in our community from what is the greatest modern day atrocity here domestically in the United States," said Breaking the Chains CEO, Debra Rush.
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