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Trauma Center Teams With LBPD To Address Human Trafficking

Published: June 6, 2016

Thanks to a $60,000 Social Innovation Partnership grant received from Dignity Health–St. Mary Medical Center, the Long Beach Trauma Recovery Center (LBTRC) is teaming with the Long Beach Police Department’s (LBPD) Special Victims Services Unit and the Coalition Against Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) to expand services to victims in need, with a particular focus on human trafficking.

“We have the unique opportunity to place a clinician at police headquarters every day who can work alongside officers when they go into the field or with victims on-site in the station,” said Bita Ghafoori, a CSULB professor of Advanced Studies in Education and Counseling and LBTRC Director. “Providing immediate access to care can be key for victims, and we will be offering comprehensive mental health treatment and education.”

The focus of services will be on assisting human trafficking victims in the local community with the immediate goals of doing initial screening and providing needed mental health care. Assistance will also be available to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.

Human trafficking, particularly sex trafficking, is an ongoing issue in California.

The California Legislature defines human trafficking as acts involving the recruitment, abduction, transport, harboring, transfer, sale or receipt of persons, through force, coercion, fraud or deception, with intent to place them in situations of slavery or slavery-like conditions, forced labor or services, such as prostitution or sexual services, domestic servitude, bonded sweatshop labor, or other debt bondage.

In a recent report from the state, California’s nine regional human trafficking task forces identified 1,277 victims and arrested 1,798 individuals, though those numbers are considered low due to under-reporting. Among those victims, 72 percent were identified as Americans, debunking the public perception that human trafficking victims are generally from other countries. In addition, 56 percent of those individuals receiving services through California’s task forces were considered sex trafficking victims.

“Human trafficking, particularly sex trafficking, is a huge issue in California and our close collaboration with the LBPD and CAST is one of the ways we can make an impact locally,” said Ghafoori.

The grant proposal contains two strategies to do just that—intervention, where trauma-focused mental health and case management services help victims regain health and functionality; and prevention, with services aimed at helping to disrupt the intergenerational nature of trauma and prevent victims of crime from becoming perpetrators of it in the future.

An initial goal of the partnership is to identify 15 individuals who have experienced human trafficking and provide education and services to at least 50 individuals. If desired, victims can receive further assistance at the LBTRC office, located within the Dignity Health–St. Mary Medical Center.

The Long Beach Trauma Recovery Center has worked closely with the LBPD since being established in 2014, but housing a clinical staff member at police headquarters will be beneficial to both investigators and victims of violent crime. CSULB graduate and LBTRC staff member Arturo Covarrubias has been assigned to the police station.

Trauma Center Teams With LBPD To Address Human Trafficking
Arturo Covarrubias

“The Long Beach Police Department is excited about collaborating with the Long Beach Trauma Recovery Center,” said LBPD Lt. Steve Lauricella. “Having qualified counselors housed in the Special Victims Section will be beneficial to both investigators and victims of violent crime. Detectives can call upon these professionals to assist with difficult or sensitive interviews and other appropriate situations. In addition to this, it is well established that connecting victims to therapy and support services early in the process of an investigation helps mitigate the amount of trauma experienced by the victims of violent crimes.”

“Our goal is to be more proactive and more intentional in respect to working collaboratively with the police and reaching the victims of crime and violence,” said Ghafoori. “We don’t exactly know how many people we will be able to screen because nobody has ever done this before.”

The desired outcome is to get individuals well emotionally and to be functional to the point where they can hold a job, go to school, have better relationships, develop support systems and simply have a better quality of life.

“There is a huge mental health aspect,” added Ghafoori, noting that many of the victims come from horrendous child abuse backgrounds. “We are offering comprehensive mental health treatment and education. That’s our expertise and that’s the focus of this grant—to identify and provide mental health treatment. We help treat those mental health issues, mostly depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, so that the person can get out from under what many describe as this ‘black cloud’ that just sits over them. We work to help them lift that cloud so they can begin seeing again and moving down the right path.”