By now we’ve all heard that sex trafficking is happening right under our noses. But an ongoing investigation in California proves that it’s just a little closer to home than any of us would like to imagine.
Earlier this summer, 13 young girls and women were rescued from one of the largest sex trafficking rings on the West Coast.
It all began with a missing teenager, whose disappearance was reported to the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office in late 2016.
The teen was rescued in January from a West Hollywood apartment.
Her discovery launched a full-fledged investigation, which led detectives from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department to a massive sex trafficking ring that spanned across parts of California and into Nevada.
Investigators found apartment units in more than a dozen communities that were being rented and used as brothels.
“Years ago, a human trafficking case of this magnitude was not likely,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said. “We knew the more we looked, the more we would find.”
Of the 13 victims rescued, eight were minors who were sold for commercial sex.
“They are as young as 15 years old, bought and sold for commercial sex,” McDonnell added.
The six-month investigation drew efforts from the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department, Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, Los Angeles Regional Human Trafficking Task Force and the California Department of Justice. In that time, officials have made two arrests: 30-year-old Quinton Brown, and 32-year-old Gerald Turner.
The two men were arrested in suspicion of 54 charges “relating to sex trafficking, pimping, pandering, grand theft and identity theft.”
McDonnell says the two “would traffic the victims in plain sight,” posting public alerts online that they were for sale.
“Human trafficking, which includes sex and labor trafficking, is one of the fasting growing crimes in the world. Its reach is not limited to foreign countries,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said. “In California, human trafficking is reported here in our state more than in any other.”
Detectives are still looking for 32-year-old Mia McNeil, who they believe is the one responsible for renting the various apartments to be used as brothels. She also leased high-end vehicles to Brown and Turner for transporting the girls and young women.
Officials warn that online predators who are “looking for an 11-year-old” are not your “traditional Johns.” They don’t look or operate like pimps that you’ve seen on Law and Order SVU, and they very well could be working in your everyday places.
“These are predators,” McDonnell said. “These are child molesters that are out there taking advantage of some of the most vulnerable in society.”
Since the establishment of the Los Angeles Regional Human Trafficking Task Force in 2015, there have been a reported 697 arrests, and 185 victims rescued.
Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux warns parents to be on the look out. It’s happening in our neighborhoods and our communities, and we have to be educated in order to keep our kids safe.
“To the parents, be vigilant,” he said at a press conference. “Pay attention to what your children are doing online. Social networking is an environment for predators to prey on and exploit the innocence of our children.”
Though they’ve taken down one of the largest sex trafficking rings of the West coast, there’s still a lot of work to be done in the fight against modern-day slavery. This discovery just barely scratches the surface.
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