Tulare County cracking down on human traffickers

VISALIA, Calif. (KFSN) -- For the past several months, Tulare County has been focusing on prosecuting human traffickers and Assemblyman Devon Mathis hosted a town hall meeting in Visalia Friday.

It's a crime that hides in plain sight, one that targets children and one that the Tulare County district attorney hopes to stop.

"These are our most vulnerable victims that they are preying on," district attorney Time Ward said.

County officials say human trafficking is a very real concern. Since 2014, the district attorney's office has filed six cases against over a dozen defendants. Advocates like Hollywood actress Marisol Nichols say that's just scratching the surface.

"Human trafficking is so prevalent that having people not think that it's in their area is its biggest protection," Nichols said.

Dozens of parents and grandparents attended a community meeting Friday, worried about the safety of their kids.

"When you see young people and they live all around us, then it's a time to be concerned because you wouldn't want something like this to happen to them," resident Leonard Cozby said.

Most victims are underage young women and many are used in sex trafficking. Officials say they worry many more are used for labor.

"Any time you got low paying jobs in a rural area you certainly got the premise that it could happen," Ward explained.

The goal is to teach people warning signs, to reduce stigma against the victims and redirect attention onto the perpetrators.

"People will start to look and start to notice and start calling the authorities going 'hey, I see something suspicious,'" Nichols said. "There is a girl she doesn't look to happy, there is a guy chasing her, she has bruises."
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