Law enforcement, prosecutors trying to catch up with people who prey on other people

Human trafficking has been around for a long, long time, but only now is the problem coming into the spotlight.

Ignorance of the problem has allowed it to flourish, with instances of human trafficking Taft.

It has operated under the radar, and now law enforcement is playing catchup with human traffickers, so much so that if you suspect someone is being trafficked or see signs of people being forced to work against their will, you're better off calling a tip line to rescuers than calling 911. A California Highway Patrol officer, speaking last week at a follow-up to a human trafficking summit held here in August, said law enforcement has some catching up to do.

CHP officer Adam Taylor said that California is a hot spot for human trafficking with I-5 serving as a main corridor for illegally moving weapons, drugs and people.

California's first law against human trafficking didn't go into effect until 2006.

Taylor knows human trafficking better than most. Before joining the CHP, he served in the United States Coast Guard and worked on interdicting illegal immigrants being smuggled in via ship.

He outlined the problems law enforcement has to overcome.

“A lack of knowledge of human trafficking and how much there is, a lack of interagency cooperation and a lack of expertise,” he said.

It doesn't end with the officers on the street.

Prosecutions for human trafficking are nearly nonexistent at present.

“There's only been one successful prosecution for human trafficking in Kern County – ever,” said Phil Gazely of the Kern Coalition Against Human Trafficking. “So what does than mean? There's work to be done.”

Training law enforcement and prosecutors is just starting, he said.

Anyone suspecting human trafficking should call 1-888-373-7888. Information will be relayed to local rescuers.

Information will be relayed to rescuers like Gazely and other members of KCAHT.

The two program held in Taft are a part of a growing awareness of human trafficking in Kern County, Gazely said.

The coalition was formed in 2010 in response to two 14-year-old girls being trafficked at a truck stop.

Now, there are 37 organizations involved in anti-trafficking activities in Kern County, Gazely said.

Theere are three refuges and recovery centers for trafficking victims in the county – one in Bakersfield and two others at undisclosed outlying locations

Through better reporting, the coalition has been able to identify a growing number of people who are victims of human traffickers.

Twelve victims were identified in 2012, but now that has grown to 48 identified in just July and August alone.

“It's a lot worse than I ever imagined,” he said.

Bakersfield's Union Avenue is the center of human trafficking in Kern County and 75 percent of the prostitutes working there are trafficking victims,

But it is also spreading to other areas of the county – even Taft.

“We have heard of one case in Taft. We have a number of cases come up in Ridgecrest and Delano.

As a result, Gazely said, a community response team has been formed in Ridgecrest and one is forming in Frazier Park.

“I'm hoping you are No. 3,” Gazely told the audience at the Lighthouse Christian Center.

For more information or to get involved., visit the KCAHT website at http://kcaht.org/