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H.E.A.T. Watch – Stop Human Exploitation and Trafficking

National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1(888) 373-7888
Alameda County H.E.A.T. Watch Tip Line: 1(510) 208-4959
Office of the District Attorney, Alameda County
Nancy E. O'Malley, District Attorney

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Vigorously prosecuting perpetrators who financially benefit from the trafficking enterprise, and ensuring they receive the maximum sentence supported by the facts and law, is a key component of HEAT Watch. Our prosecutions put victims first – they are victim centered and trauma informed. Victims are linked with advocates and wrap and around services from the point of first contact to well beyond then end of a case.

District Attorney O’Malley formed the H.E.A.T. Unit in 2005 prior to the passage of Penal Code Section 236.1, California’s Human Trafficking Statute. In 2006, it is believed that our office was the first to file charges under the newly created Penal Code. In 2010, our office requested imposition of the first human trafficking fine created under AB 17, a bill sponsored by the A.C.D.A.O. and signed by the Governor in 2009.

In 2012, our office helped secure the passage of Proposition 35, an anti-trafficking initiative on the statewide ballot, which passed at a rate higher than any other initiative state history and gave California the toughest anti-human trafficking law in the country. Proposition 35, also known as the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation (CASE) Act of 2012, provides increased penalties for traffickers, including prison sentences of up to 15 years to life and fines up to $1.5 million. Most significantly, Proposition 35 eliminated the requirement of proving force or fear in sex trafficking prosecutions involving youth under the age of 18 years, and mistake of fact as to the age of a minor is no longer a defense.

Recognizing that children who are exploited and trafficked are victims of child abuse, and not criminals, is another key component of HEAT Watch prosecution efforts. Referring to these children as commercially sexually exploited youth, as opposed to prostitutes, acknowledges their victimization and instead shifts responsibility where it rightfully belongs – to the pimps, buyers and facilitators - the traffickers who facilitate and engage in sex with children.

“For five years we have been fighting to shatter the perception of children as prostitutes and criminals undeserving of protection. These young people are victims of child abuse. We are committed to continue our ongoing efforts to educate the community, prosecute the offenders, and rescue these girls,” says DA O’Malley. Effective January 1. 2017, Senate Bill 1322 passed, which prohibits law enforcement from arresting and prosecuting minors for engaging in commercial sex acts. DA O’Malley was the only district attorney in the state in support of the watershed legislation which recognizes that youth who are sold are victims and should be treated as such by the criminal justice system.

The HEAT Unit also prosecutes traffickers under traditional pimping and pandering, sexual assault, kidnapping and burglary laws, which in some instances carry life sentences. The net of human trafficking is cast broadly; those who solicit children for sex, those who lure children into the commercial sex trade, and those who aid in the exploitation, are all prosecuted as traffickers. Enforcers, who act as security guards and conspire to exploit victims for financial gain, are also charged as felons and traffickers. Special attention is given to prosecutions of recruiters and trainers, females who themselves were once or still continue to be victims under the control of the traffickers. Where appropriate, alternatives to prosecution are considered for individuals who, though in the human trafficking organization, are nonetheless under the control of the trafficker and not acting I accordance with their own free will.

Our aggressive and creative prosecution strategies have paid off. A 2012 report by California Attorney General, Kamala Harris states that the ACDAO has successfully prosecuted 46% of all human trafficking cases in the State, with an 81% conviction rate.[1]

The following statistics reflect HEAT Unit results from 1/1/06, the effective date of section 236.1, through 12/31/18. [2]

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Success in the courtroom:

727 Defendants charged*
57 Pending
670 Concluded
543 Convicted
81% Successful conviction rate

*includes 50 parole and probation revocations