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Documentary showcases the overlooked problem of human trafficking

Gregg Reese | 9/21/2011, 5 p.m.

Faulty air conditioning did not deter a capacity crowd from cramming into the Los Angeles Police Department's Deaton Auditorium on Sept. 15 for a premiere of "Flesh the Movie"--a documentary on United States sex trafficking.
Much of the media's coverage of sex trafficking focuses on international commerce of human beings, but this nonfiction chronicle highlights the plight of unfortunates victimized and exploited within the confines of the continental United States. In addition, it proposes a notion outside traditional paradigms by making a correlation between contemporary casualties and the slave trade of the American antebellum era.
Much of the footage encompasses interviews with prostitutes, those who've escaped this destructive lifestyle, and individuals still in "the game."
Exploited individuals, often pre-adolescent and adolescent females, share a commonality regardless of their origin domestically here in the U.S., or as newly arrived immigrants--their impoverished condition, financial or emotional, makes them especially vulnerable to unscrupulous predators.
These exploiters tell their side of the story in the film, as well. Pimps will seek out specific traits in the targets they solicit, and once they've ensnared them use prescribed tactics to ensure the quarry remains off balance and dependent, economically and psychologically. This includes limiting contact with the outside world and stifling avenues for independence.
To address these issues, specialized law enforcement units have evolved; utilizing men like Los Angeles police Det. Hector Sanchez, who supervises undercover vice investigations throughout the city. Years of experience have allowed Sanchez to discern patterns even among dissimilar ethnic groups. Thus, even among groups of disparate origin such as Armenian or Central American immigrants, he says "each enclave has an element" that resembles the others in terms of being an illicit business model with comparable components and operational methodology.
In the film, mention is made of the two main circuits of activity along the east and west coasts. In the west, the circuit is subdivided as well, with traffickers moving their "stables" at will between places like San Diego, Seattle, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Fresno.
Locally, as Sanchez relates, these areas are broken down to even smaller circuits or "tracks," with low-level purveyors utilizing technology in the form of websites, as well as social networking services such as "Twitter" to keep tabs on law enforcement. In this manner, girls may be shuffled between places like the Figueroa and Western corridors, Compton, Long Beach, Torrance, the West Valley, and so on, to avoid pockets that have become "hot" with police activity. This minimizes the chance of arrest.
Going on, Sanchez explains that "flesh peddling" is especially attractive to the criminal element because it utilizes an intangible service as opposed to a tangible good.
Drugs and narcotics are tangible goods that are sold, and once consumed, the resource is no more. A service (in this case, sexual favors) can be sold and resold to generate even greater income.
These qualities have attracted street gangs like the Crips and Bloods, because a physical product or tangible good (which may be used as evidence in criminal proceedings) is not needed, while convictions for pandering necessitate the testimony of the prostitute against the procurer or pimp. Additionally, criminal penalties for drug trafficking will likely be more severe than those for pandering.
Recently, the Los Angeles city attorney obtained an injunction against pimps and prostitutes, similar to those aimed at gangs. Community activist Najee Ali has also recently focus his attention on helping these women get off the street, and applauds the city attorney's efforts, but insists it "doesn't go far enough."
Echoing the observations made by Sanchez, Ali notes that prostitution, traditionally a staple along the Figueroa corridor, has fluctuated over the years, and during the past two years has migrated over to Western Avenue (a locale that previously served as a fertile stalking ground for the "Grim Sleeper").
In view of the recent "spike" along this corridor, Ali hopes to attract the attention of city and county officials to obtain resources to address this situation.
Sanchez, on the other hand, acknowledges that while the injunction methodology holds promise, he notes ruefully that it is not a "magic bullet" nor does it offer a quick remedy, and states flatly that "prostitution injunctions are tedious, and require a lot of work."