Los Angeles wants business owners to post anti-human trafficking signs

Erika Aguilar/KPCC

Maria Suarez, 54, is a human trafficking survivor who was promised a house cleaning job when she was 15-years old. Instead, she was sold to a man for $200 and remained with him for nearly six years until his death.

Los Angeles Human Trafficking

Erika Aguilar/KPCC

This poster will be distributed to businesses free of charge that are required, by law, to post some type of anti-human trafficking awareness sign with a hotline number for help.

Erika Aguilar/KPCC

Non-profit and government officials hold up anti-human trafficking posters that will be distributed to certain businesses required, by law, to post some type of information about human trafficking with a hotline number for help.

Anti-human trafficking advocates introduced a campaign Monday in Los Angeles that is urging business owners to post signs at their establishments with hotline numbers for people to report possible crimes.

The National Council of Jewish Women/LA (NCJW/LA) is funding the printing costs of anti-human trafficking posters that certain businesses are required, by law, to post at their establishments. The group sponsored S.B. 1193, which was passed by the legislature in 2013. It made California the 11th state to require specific businesses to post the information and help raise awareness about the issue.

“This has been one of the biggest ethical issues of our lifetime,” said L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti during a news conference on Monday. “Trafficking happens in our backyard. It can happen from neighborhood to neighborhood.”

Maya Paley is the director of legislative and community engagement with the NCJW/LA. She said that since similar laws took effect in in Texas and Arkansas, the number of people calling national and local human trafficking hotlines has increased.

“Those callers have reported that they have called because they have seen those posters,” Paley said.

Businesses that are required by law to post human trafficking awareness signs include:

  • An adult entertainment or sexually oriented business.
  • A primary airport, a train station, light rail station or bus station.
  • A truck stop.
  • A hospital emergency room.
  • An urgent care center.
  • A farm labor contractor.
  • A privately operated job recruitment center.
  • A roadside rest area.
  • A business offering massages or other body services.

Several hundred business owners within the City of Los Angeles received letters on Feb. 6 from the city attorney's office reminding them they are required to post anti-human trafficking signs at their locations. There is a $500 fine for the first time the business is not in compliance. It increases to $1,000 for the second violation.

Maria Suarez, 54, shared her human trafficking experience at a news conference introducing the anti-human trafficking posters.

Suarez said she was sold for $200 to a 68-year old man in Azusa when she was 15 years old. She had just moved to Sierra Madre from Michoacán, Mexico. Suarez met the man through another woman who promised her a job cleaning a house and answering the phone for an elderly couple.

“I was very ignorant,” Suarez said. “I had just come to this country. I didn’t know English. I didn’t know my surroundings. So yes, I was a perfect target for them.”

She said she was physically, sexually and emotionally tortured for nearly six years during her captivity. Now she works with the NCJW/LA as a talk line counselor and a volunteer coordinator.

“Parents need to tell their kids that human trafficking exists,” Suarez said.

She said she’s happy to see how the laws have changed since she was a victim of human trafficking. There is more help for undocumented immigrants who become victims. She added that law enforcement agencies are receiving training on how to spot human trafficking, such as a victim with no access to identification cards.

Correction: This story has been changed from an earlier version to correct the amount that Maria Suarez was sold by a human trafficker.

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