City Council unanimously passed two motions last night that could make the city-wide effort to combat human trafficking and prostitution more effective. One motion will require predetermined types of businesses to post information to help victims of human trafficking and prostitution escape the life, while the other requires information on those convicted for solicitation of prostitution to be made public.
Senate Bill 1193, which was approved by the State in September 2012, was adopted by the Council last night. The bill stipulates that specified types of businesses are required to post a notice that contains information relating to slavery and human trafficking. These notices contain information on non-profit organizations that help victims escape these situations and include a 24-hour, 7 day-a-week hotline that provides anonymous and confidential help and general information for victims.
The state bill requires that the notices be posted in English, Spanish and the third most common language in each county; however Virginia Zart, a member of the human trafficking task force in the city, clarified that the notices in Long Beach would also include Khmer. Zart said that in her work with victims of human trafficking, education was something they all pointed toward as a means of escape.
“Before this law was passed, survivors were asked what would help those victims that are currently in the life,” Zart said. “And over and over again they said that if they had more information. Having this phone number out in public places for victims to see and have access to is very important to helping them get out of the life.”
The 12 types of businesses that would be required to post these notices are outlined in the Senate Bill, and include those businesses that have an on-sale general public premise license from the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act, adult- or sexually-oriented businesses, primary airports, bus stations and intercity passenger rail or light stations and massage parlors. The bill, however, doesn’t include hotels or motels.
City Attorney Charles Parkin pointed out that while other cities and jurisdictions have explored adding hotels and motels to the group of business types defined by the bill, currently they can only require a hotel or motel to post the notice if there has been a conviction solicitation or prostitution at the location. Ninth District Council Member Rex Richardson, the councilman whose office the motion originated from, asked for Parkin to explore an amendment to include those businesses in Long Beach.
The passing of the bill was questioned by Seventh District Council Member Roberto Uranga, in particular the cost of producing the notices. Uranga pointed out that the broad definition of “adult or sexually oriented” and the inclusion of businesses with an ABC license could create an expensive paper trail. However, City Manager Pat West said that it would only be up to the city to provide the samples and enforce the postings, not to print and deliver the notices.
Under the new enforcement plan, the city would provide sample notices to be posted and it would be up to the business operator to print or photocopy the notices and post them. Failure to comply would result in a $500 fine for a first time offense and a $1,000 fine for any subsequent offense. There was some uncertainty as to how the code would be enforced and who would ultimately keep any money collected from violations.
“The fine is established in the civil code, I don’t have an answer for you tonight on where the money goes,” said City Attorney Charles Parkin. “Whether the city or jurisdiction gets to keep that or it goes into the court system and we get a small percentage of that fine. I do believe it would be the latter.”
Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal, who was presiding over the meeting in Mayor Robert Garcia’s absence due to his attending the United States Conference of Mayors in Washington D.C., said that it’s an important step for a city to become partners with advocacy groups and the task force to spread awareness of human trafficking.
“It’s extremely important to encourage the public’s awareness, and we have folks that have been doing that,” Lowenthal said. “But for us to join as a city to help with that I think is critical. There’s clearly a common misperception that these are somehow victimless crimes, we hear that time and time again.Those in the advocacy community have highlighted for us that is in fact a fallacy and a false narrative.”
The council’s second vote focused on those funding human trafficking by soliciting sex for money. In a 7-0 vote the council approved a recommendation from City Prosecutor Doug Haubert’s office to approve the publishing of the names of people convicted of prostitution-related crimes.
The “Johns Exposed Program” will make public the names of persons convicted of aiding or supervising a prostitute, soliciting or purchasing sex for money or loitering for the purposes of prostitution. The program was originally presented to city council by Haubert in a memo in October of 2014.
Haubert cited a United Nations report estimating the global market for human trafficking at nearly $32 billion and said that while publishing the names of the convicted won’t change prostitution in the city overnight, it’s one of many steps that the city, police department and community members have taken to help stunt the demand side of prostitution.
“It’s generally realized that human trafficking obviously exists because there’s a great deal of demand for it,” Haubert said. “In order to help law enforcement and other agencies trying to stem the demand, we’ve decided to take the step of making it public when people are arrested, charged and actually convicted."
The city prosecutor said that even though human trafficking convictions carry lengthy sentences, those cases are rarely prosecuted as felonies because of a lack of evidence. He added that most Johns don’t realize they’re aiding violent street gangs, and because of those gang ties, Johns all too often end up being victims themselves.
As of this morning, a list of convicted Johns has been added to the city prosecutor’s website.
The council’s votes come in the middle of Human Trafficking Awareness Month, which was addressed at the outset of Tuesday’s meeting when Richardson announced that the Long Beach Human Trafficking Task Force will join with the Long Beach Unified School District and parent teacher associations to put on the first Youth Exploitation Safety Symposium at Cabrillo High School January 31.