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Kern County DA announces creation of Human Trafficking Task Force

KCDA Human Trafficking Awareness Day

Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer announces the creation of Kern County's Human Trafficking Task Force on Tuesday at the Family Justice Center.

The Kern County District Attorney’s Office announced the creation of a Human Trafficking Task Force during an event Tuesday aimed at raising awareness about exploitation.

The task force uses a “victim-centered” approach by not only apprehending the perpetrator, but also offering the survivor help, Tyson McCoy, the director of prosecutions for human trafficking at the Kern County District Attorney’s Office, said in an email Tuesday. Law enforcement agencies partner with social groups to break the “chains of trafficking,” he added.

“Kern County will not tolerate modern-day slavery,” said Bakersfield Mayor Karen Goh at the Family Justice Center on Tuesday. “We will not tolerate this escalating crime.”

Local partners include law enforcement agencies around the county, including the Kern County Sheriff’s Office and the Bakersfield Police Department; the Alliance Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault; Kern County Social Services Department; faith-based organizations; as well as human trafficking survivors and other advocates, McCoy said.

Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer's office hosted a training in July 2021, which gathered statewide law enforcement officials to learn about this multipronged approach. Orange County created a task force that the Kern County group is modeled after.

“We are setting out to be better because we know we can be better,” Zimmer said.

Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood and BPD Assistant Chief Brent Stratton also attended the event. Both signaled their support for the task force, and the results such a collaboration can bring to end human trafficking.

Zimmer said the issue is the fastest-growing crime in the world. McCoy attributed the rise to the internet and social media. Traffickers most often target the vulnerable and young. The average age of a victim into the sex trade is 11 to 14 years old, McCoy added.

These perpetrators use the internet and apps such as Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok to groom and trap their victims.

“Our kids are just a click, like or comment away from a trafficker,” McCoy said.

Angelica Zuniga, an advocate for victims and a survivor of trafficking, spoke at the event. Her own experiences within a safe haven inspired her to create a place for victims to seek help. Zuniga had a grand opening for the Redeemed House on Tuesday, which aims at bringing resources to those escaping the cycle of violence, she told The Californian.

The six-bedroom house in Bakersfield provides an opportunity for survivors of both sex and labor trafficking, 18 or older, to become acclimated to normal life once they break free of the abuse, Zuniga said. At the all-woman house, people will receive job training, basic life skills and “just learning how to live,” she added.

Zuniga recommends that residents there stay for one year. These women draw strength and healing from each other, she added.

“It’s like my eyes were open, and I was able to see colors that I have never seen before,” Zuniga said of the recovery process and its effect on survivors.

You can reach Ishani Desai at 661-395-7417. You can also follow her at @idesai98 on Twitter.