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July 2013

Human trafficking the focus of L.A. Metro program

Courtesy L.A. Metro

Courtesy L.A. Metro
As the federal government attempts to shed a light on human trafficking across all modes of transportation, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) has developed its own awareness program to help identify and report human trafficking.

The campaign includes brochures and posters on buses and trains, as well as training programs for employees to identify and help potential victims.

Once the agency’s marketing campaign gathered momentum, Metro began using social media and billboards for which media giant Clear Channel donated 90 in more than 60 locations to spread the word, according to Robin O’Hara, director, TAP services, for Metro. The program has continued to grow since its positive reception both in the community and the mainstream media.

“Through all of the positive feedback, we were encouraged to do more,” O’Hara said. “The point to our marketing was basically to raise awareness for the campaign, give people a number to call if they thought they saw something suspicious and offer people a safe way to report it.”

The program was launched following the urging of L.A. County Supervisor and Metro Board Member Don Knabe, however, Metro was slow to get the program moving because as a public agency it could not appear as if it was advocating.

“It’s not our agency’s place to advocate, so we carefully evaluated the program first,” said O’Hara. “L.A. is one of the top five cities for human trafficking, so we felt that it could be happening on our system, and therefore, does impact the safety and security of our passengers. Because of that, we felt it was a worthy campaign to kind of sink our teeth into.”

Human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery involving the illegal trade of people for exploitation or commercial gain.

Every year, millions of men, women and children are trafficked in countries around the world, including the U.S. It is estimated that human trafficking is a $32 billion per year industry, second only to drug trafficking as the most profitable form of transnational crime.

Traffickers often use force, fraud, or coercion to lure their victims and force them into labor or commercial sexual exploitation. They look for people who are vulnerable for a variety of reasons, including economic hardship, natural disasters or political instability. The trauma can be so great that many may not identify themselves as victims or ask for help, even in highly public settings.  

To help its employees and passengers identify and help potential victims, Metro also began a voluntary training program, which is accessible on its website, explained O’Hara.

“It leads the person to a learning module they can read through, and after that, allows them to take a short eight question quiz, which reviews what they read, providing our employees and customers an overall picture of what to look out for and be aware of,” she said.  

Metro is also developing a mandatory training program for all employees.

In 2010, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) launched its “Blue Campaign” to more effectively combat human trafficking through enhanced awareness, training, victim assistance and law enforcement investigations.

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) teamed with DHS to begin training its more than 55,000 professionals to be able to identify and report human trafficking. The U.S. DOT and DHS also teamed with Amtrak last year to begin training its more than 20,000 employees and created a nationwide awareness training program across all modes of transportation, including public transportation.

While Metro’s program has been widely lauded, O’Hara explained it is difficult to quantify how successful the program has been in foiling human trafficking.

From the standpoint of the amount of marketing materials put out on the system, however, O’Hara said, it is clear Metro’s message is reaching people.

“We are in the process of gathering information, but it is difficult because we are dealing with a very sensitive matter,” she said. “We are content with where we are right now, but we are really trying to nail down some outcomes because we feel that is the best way to prove the program has been a success.”

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