– Executive Summary –

Human trafficking is a dynamic, transient crime, but California’s response to it is static and stale.[1] Human trafficking is often described as a process crime wherein the victim is compelled or coerced into providing the penultimate purpose of labor or services or to engage in commercial sex against their will.[2] The coercive tactics traffickers employ can be incredibly hard to identify, detect, and investigate. The spectrum of coercive tactics is vast.  The spectrum includes subtle and overt actions, physical and psychological force, may involve the use of physical violence, verbal threats against the victim or the victim’s family, lies, or erroneously created debt bondage. This panoply of coercive tactics poses significant challenges for investigators.[3] Based on the subtle nuances of a perpetrator’s criminality, scholars have stressed the need for law enforcement to work closely with victim service organizations when investigating trafficking cases.[4] U.S. anti-trafficking efforts have employed an incongruently complex multidisciplinary collaborative approach.[5] With little mandatory structure, these multidisciplinary working groups often take different shape and form, consisting of local or federal law enforcement, coupled with victim service organizations, working together to identify and support victims of trafficking while prosecuting the traffickers. This patchwork of task forces is not positioned or supported to succeed. As the criminal element conducting trafficking evolves, so too should the response.

All available data indicate California has the most significant human-trafficking problem in the United States. Given California’s large economy and population, criminal actors view the state as a fertile environment to exploit.[6] The state leads the nation in the number of human-trafficking tips entered into the National Human Trafficking Hotline, and according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, California, Oklahoma, Texas, and New York routinely top the list of states with the largest concentrations of trafficked victims in the United States.[7] In 2019, Californians originated 1,507 tips—nearly equaling the second- and third-place states combined.[8] Texas was second with 1,080, followed by Florida with 896 calls, for a combined total of 1,976.[9] California leads the nation with the most anti-trafficking task forces, community collaboratives, and working groups: 32. Numerous state agencies include human trafficking in their portfolio of work; however, no state-level agency currently coordinates the gathering and dissemination of trafficking intelligence. Each task force essentially works its own area of operation with no formalized mechanism to share intelligence or provide case support to neighboring law enforcement entities.[10] This mismatched patchwork of California’s human-trafficking task forces has inhibited a coordinated information-sharing environment. Coupled with a lack of state agency-level leadership, each unit must use its own resources and imagination. Investigating agencies sporadically practice regional intelligence-sharing methods without systematically sharing operational intelligence statewide. In this context, California’s static, stale law enforcement response is no match for the dynamic, transient crime of human trafficking.[11] California’s human-trafficking intelligence gathering and dissemination processes fail to reach their optimal application, limiting law enforcement’s ability to appreciate the scope and context of trafficking. This disconnect impedes the state’s ability to articulate the threat, recognize the intersectionality of criminal activity that trafficking poses, and mitigate its affect clearly and fully.

In a post-9/11 environment, law enforcement agencies have elevated information sharing beyond a “best practice” to an imperative directive, but despite agreement on the concept of information sharing, debate within the law enforcement community persists as to how to transfer operational information.[12] Threat assessment remains critical to information sharing, yet agencies continue to struggle with its execution.[13] Information sharing also challenges agencies working to counter trafficking. Government leaders and scholars have struggled to clearly articulate and untangle the complexities posed by sharing anti-trafficking operational intelligence between multidisciplinary task force members. They stress traffickers will continue to exploit disjointed and static anti-trafficking responses with impunity until local, national, and international information sharing takes place.[14] Reports and scholars lament that the national anti-trafficking intelligence-sharing model has not kept pace with the threat.[15] In the California attorney general’s 2012 report The State of Human Trafficking in California, then-Attorney General Kamala Harris stated, “California needs a central clearinghouse to coordinate and compile human trafficking information from local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies and governments, as well as non-governmental organizations.”[16] The body of literature continues to emphasize and elevate the value of counter-trafficking information sharing. For instance, as recently as October 2020, the president’s National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking significantly elevated the importance of information sharing in the national response, placing it at the center of strategic and tactical planning for both domestic and international trafficking-related cases.[17] Although the literature consistently addresses the positive effects information sharing can have on case development, it lacks specificity and detailed recommendations as to how to bring the relevant parties in line.

Organizations succeed not just because of their formal arrangement but because of the quality of the interpersonal interactions their union fosters.[18] The enhanced collaborative anti-trafficking model was designed based on the elements needed to deliver a successful victim-centered case via trauma-informed care. Nongovernmental organizations that supplied the various necessities would be cobbled together with the directive to collaborate. Little thought was given to how these entities would interact, however. It was assumed that if they self-selected their in-groups by voluntarily pairing during the grant application process, they would be successful collaborators. This has not always proven true. While some human-trafficking task forces have been very successful, many have faltered as they were not given the adequate knowledge and tools to collaborate.

The enhanced collaborative model for human-trafficking task forces poses unique challenges. It demands that law enforcement cooperate and share information with equally effective non–law enforcement response partners. Federal, state, and local governments are rapidly adopting a multidisciplinary approach to trafficking, bringing together disparate practitioners to form collaborative networks to solve “wicked” social problems. Wicked problems often require systematic or complex policy adaptations; are often unforeseeable and unpredictable, often undefined, or difficult to explain; and may not have a simply articulated solutions.[19] An effective collaborative approach to problem-solving is commonly pronounced but rarely achieved. Many of the existing collaborative models lack implementation precision, identifying a multitude of impactful interpersonal factors without unpacking their interconnectivity.[20] Social identify theory (SIT) has been shown an appropriate heuristic, interpersonal framework for group behavioral analysis.[21] In this thesis, SIT serves as a theoretical framework. As such, it can enhance the understanding of several key friction points plaguing anti-trafficking multidisciplinary task force collaboration. In this thesis, SIT underpins the analysis of challenges to information sharing, victim privacy and confidentiality, and the critical aspect of cultural competency within task force operations.

SIT is also a key aspect of this thesis’s proposal to access and share sensitive information. Within the categorical concept of SIT is the awareness of dominant and subordinate groups.[22] Defining which group is dominant and which is subordinate is not easily obvious.[23] Dominant and subordinate groups are differentiated based on a multitude of variables impacting their relationships of power and oppression.  They may be rooted in terms of class, race, gender, or any other definite criteria.[24] Within the anti-trafficking task force model, this dominant–subordinate power and inequity is most easily articulated through the access to sensitive information. This disconnect inhibits the transfer of knowledge—from not only a procedural perspective but also a social one.[25] The failure of a dominant group to acknowledge and appreciate a subordinate group that may hold valuable information or knowledge slows the free flow of knowledge transfer. This thesis attempts to provide guidance and examples of how task force members can reduce, mitigate, or avoid many information-sharing roadblocks.

As a self-recognized magnet for traffickers, California must continue to develop aggressive, forward-leaning anti-trafficking policies, not only focusing on the victim service sector but also advancing the cross-agency multidisciplinary approach to information sharing. Improvement requires recognition of weaknesses, failures, and inefficiencies. Although California has one of the most robust and knowledgeable anti-trafficking law enforcement and victim service responses in the world, task force members do not receive the collaborative guidance necessary to maximize their impact. Expanding and refining intelligence-sharing practices will allow law enforcement, intelligence analysts, and victim service organizations to better identify perpetrators and articulate the threat nexus to drug trafficking, terrorism funding, and other ancillary criminal activity. California needs to develop a common working group model whereby law enforcement and civilian partners can build the requisite mutual respect and trust that collaboration demands.

Housed within the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (CalOES), the State Threat Assessment System (STAS) is critical to California’s all-crimes mission. Fusion centers are information- and intelligence-sharing centers located throughout the United States. The STAS is the natural information-sharing system to integrate trafficking-related information. In the 2012 report, California Attorney General Kamala Harris highlighted the role that the STAS should play:

The STAS is already positioned to receive and analyze local, regional, statewide, and national information, and law enforcement is already accustomed to receiving information from and providing information to the STAS members. Leveraging the STAS’ information sharing structure as a conduit to centralized trafficking information is a natural, ready-made solution to the current lack connectivity in California.[26]

CalOES should fill the leadership void. Currently, no state-level agency leads or coordinates California’s anti-trafficking intelligence efforts. This leadership void creates duplicative investigations, which waste valuable time and resources. Insufficient coordinated efforts reduce visibility in the threat environment and cast shadows where traffickers can thrive unnoticed with limited risk. However, this vacuum provides an opportunity for CalOES to create a formal collaborative framework and intelligence-sharing environment for law enforcement and victim service entities to come together, learn from each other, share best practices and case intelligence, identify gaps and challenges, and build the mutual trust that collaboration demands. A coordinated information-sharing methodology is consistent with California’s commitment to an aggressive and meaningful approach to combating trafficking.

CalOES carries the legitimacy and visibility necessary to realign California’s anti-trafficking efforts. While CalOES no longer funds law enforcement operations in California, it does provide significant financial support to trafficking-victim service providers. Numerous recipients of CalOES’s trafficking grants are members of task forces, so enhancing this existing relationship advances both victim service and homeland security goals.


[1] Benjamin Thomas Greer, Grace Cotulla, and Mandy Johnson, “The Routes of Human Suffering: How Point-Source and Destination-Source Mapping Can Help Victim Services Providers and Law Enforcement Agencies Effectively Combat Human Trafficking,” abstract, International Journal of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering 8, no. 12 (2014), https://publications.waset.org/abstracts/22072/pdf; California Alliance to Combat Trafficking and Slavery Task Force, Human Trafficking in California: Final Report of the California Alliance to Combat Trafficking and Slavery Task Force (Sacramento: California Alliance to Combat Trafficking and Slavery Task Force, 2007), 130; Kamala Harris, The State of Human Trafficking in California (Sacramento: California Department of Justice, 2012), 134, https://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/‌agweb/pdfs/ht/human-trafficking-2012.pdf; Brett A. Berliner, review of Modern Slavery: A Global Perspective, by Siddharth Kara, Human Rights Review 20, no. 4 (December 2019): 485–87, http:///doi.org/‌10.1007/s12142-019-00571-z.

[2] “What Is Human Trafficking?,” Official Website of California Department of Justice, accessed December 6, 2021, https://oag.ca.gov/human-trafficking/what-is.

[3] Official Website of California Department of Justice.

[4] Amy Farrell, “Environmental and Institutional Influences on Police Agency Responses to Human Trafficking,” Police Quarterly 17, no. 1 (2014): 3–29, https://doi.org/10.1177/1098611113495050; Amy Farrell et al., Identifying Challenges to Improve the Investigation and Prosecution of State and Local Human Trafficking Cases,NCJ-238795 (Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice, 2012).

[5] Bureau of Justice Assistance, “FY 2019 Enhanced Collaborative Model Task Force to Combat Human Trafficking: Supporting Law Enforcement’s Role,” Competitive Grant Solicitation BJA-2019-15230 (Washington, DC: Department of Justice, 2019), https://bja.ojp.gov/sites/g/files/xyckuh186/files/‌media/document/BJA-2019-15230.PDF.

[6] Benjamin Thomas Greer and Jeffrey G. Purvis, “Corporate Supply Chain Transparency: California’s Seminal Attempt to Discourage Forced Labour,” International Journal of Human Rights 20, no. 1 (2016), https://doi.org/10.1080/13642987.2015.1039318.

[7] “Home Page,” National Human Trafficking Hotline, accessed December 6, 2021, https://human‌traffickinghotline.org/.

[8] “California,” National Human Trafficking Hotline, accessed December 6, 2021, https://human‌traffickinghotline.org/state/california.

[9] “Texas,” National Human Trafficking Hotline, accessed December 6, 2021, https://humantrafficking‌hotline.org/state/texas; “Florida,” National Human Trafficking Hotline, accessed December 6, 2021, https://humantraffickinghotline.org/state/florida.

[10] State agencies include the California Department of Justice, California Department of Social Services, California Department of Education, California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, California Department of Industrial Relations, California Victim Compensation Board, and California Employment Development Department.

[11] Greer, Cotulla, and Johnson, “The Routes of Human Suffering”; California Alliance to Combat Trafficking and Slavery Task Force, Human Trafficking in California: Final Report, 130; Harris, State of Human Trafficking in California, 134; Berliner, review of Modern Slavery, 485–87.

[12] Alicia L. Jurek and William R. King, “Structural Responses to Gendered Social Problems: Police Agency Adaptations to Human Trafficking,” Police Quarterly 23, no. 1 (2020): 25–54, https://doi.org/‌10.1177/1098611119873093.

[13] Nelson Phillips, “Kirsten Foot: Collaborating against Human Trafficking: Cross-Sector Challenges and Practices,” Administrative Science Quarterly 62, no. 3 (2017): NP27–30, https://doi.org/10.1177/‌0001839217692523.

[14] President’s Interagency Task Force, Report on U.S. Government Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Persons (Washington, DC: President’s Interagency Task Force, 2020), https://www.state.gov/2020-report-on-u-s-government-efforts-to-combat-trafficking-in-persons/.

[15] Farrell et al., Investigation and Protection of State and Local Human Trafficking Cases.

[16] Harris, State of Human Trafficking in California, 6–7.

[17] Donald J. Trump, The National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking (Washington, DC: White House, 2020), 47, https://trumpwhitehouse.archives.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/NAP-to-Combat-Human-Trafficking.pdf.

[18] David Parker et al., “Challenges for Effective Counterterrorism Communication: Practitioner Insights and Policy Implications for Preventing Radicalization, Disrupting Attack Planning, and Mitigating Terrorist Attacks,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 42, no. 3 (2019): 264–91, https://doi.org/10.1080/‌1057610X.2017.1373427; Gary Alan Fine, “Group Culture and the Interaction Order: Local Sociology on the Meso-Level,” Annual Review of Sociology 38 (2012): 159–79, http://www.jstor.org/stable/23254591.

[19] Caitlin Ambrozik, “Community Stakeholder Responses to Countering Violent Extremism Locally,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 42, no. 12 (2019): 1044–68, https://doi.org/10.1080/1057610X.2018.‌1434858.

[20] Ambrozik, 1044–68.

[21] Dominic Abrams and Michael A. Hogg, “Social Identity and Self-Categorization,” in The Sage Handbook of Prejudice, Stereotyping and Discrimination and Social Influence, ed. John F. Dovidio, Miles Hewstone, and Peter Glick (London: SAGE, 2010), 179–93, https://doi.org/10.4135/9781446200919.n11.

[22] Christian Staerklé, Alain Clémence, and Dario Spini, “Social Representations: A Normative and Dynamic Intergroup Approach,” Political Psychology 32, no. 5 (2011): 759–68. http://www.jstor.org/‌stable/41262943.

[23] Staerklé, Clémence, and Spini, 759–68.

[24] Nancy DiTomaso, “A Sociocultural Framework on Diversity Requires Structure as well as Culture and Social Psychology,” Psychological Inquiry 21, no. 2 (2010), https://doi.org/10.1080/1047840X.2010.‌483570.

[25] Aimée A. Kane, “Unlocking Knowledge Transfer Potential: Knowledge Demonstrability and Superordinate Social Identity,” Organization Science 21, no. 3 (2010): 643–60. http://www.jstor.org/stable/‌40792436.

[26] Harris, State of Human Trafficking in California, 134.

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