On Friday, May 22 the Los Angeles Metro kicked off its “Don’t Be Silent” campaign aimed at protecting children against human trafficking by bringing together the public and private sector to educate Metro riders, employees and the general public on the signs of trafficking and to encourage people to speak up about the things they see while on the metro.
The initiative, which has changed form throughout the years, will begin anew with a mandatory training of over 10,000 Metro employees beginning this week, said supervisor Don Knabe during a Friday press conference on the issue.
In addition, 85,000 brochures containing resources on how to help victims of human trafficking will be placed in Metro’s customer centers, stations, buses and trains.
But the main focus of the program is to get metro riders, 18% of who are African American, and employees to say something if they see something, he said.
“What may have seemed normal in the past to our staff and drivers, this new training could help them identify a child sex trafficking situation and ultimately save lives,” Knabe said.
Three of Metro’s largest advertisers – Clear Channel, OUTFRONT Media and Lamar Advertising – also donated billboard space dedicated to the initiative and will be rolled out in the next few weeks.
“This is not a time to be quiet,” said Los Angeles County supervisor and Metro board member Hilda Solis. “It’s about speaking out.”
Human trafficking is a growing epidemic, and according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, in 2014 over 200 human trafficking cases were reported in California alone.
“Multibillion dollar trade is what we’re dealing with,” said Los Angeles County supervisor and Metro board member Mark Ridley Thomas. “We need to focus right here, right now in our own communities.”
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the total market value of illicit human trafficking is 32 billion dollars.
“They are not prostitutes, they are victims,” he said.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, Los Angeles Metro CEO Phillip A. Washington, and advocacy group Peace Over Violence were also in attendance on Friday.
Although human trafficking is a growing epidemic, exactly what to look for can be confusing for many community members.
“Oftentimes these victims are tattooed with the pimps name on their neck on their forehead,” Sheriff McDonnell said.
“These kinds of issues are happening everywhere but generally in vacant houses, hotel rooms, motel rooms. When you see traffic coming and going, call us,” he said.
Additionally victims are usually being closely watched by someone, not in possession of their own ID or money, and visible signs of physical abuse may be present.