TULARE COUNTY – Over 1,000 trafficking victims have been identified in Central Valley and six more were recently found after the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office Human Trafficking Unit conducted a sex trafficking detail in the Visalia area for the past three weeks, their efforts culminating on Friday and Saturday.
According to a press release sent out by the county’s sheriff office (TCSO), the Human Trafficking Unit, along with along with members of the Visalia Police Department, Tulare Police Department and Merced County District Attorney’s Office, were able to individually locate six women, as well arrest nine suspects, who were then charged with soliciting prostitution.
The nine men were as follows; Elijah Edwards, 27, Ernest McCormick, 40, Andrew Randolph, 41, Jose Javier Rojas Herrera, 23, Sergio Aguilera Vargas, 26, Eddie Montelango, 23, Ivan Silva Guzman,20, Kyle Adams Peterson, 29, and Jeronimo Cortez, 31.
Six of the men were from Visalia, one was from Bakersfield, one from Exeter and one from Woodlake. These men were found during the three week detail; the objective was to identify suspects who solicit women for sexual favors in exchange for money through escort services, and also to contact potential victims of human trafficking and offer services and assistance to them.
According to TCSO, Sheriff Boudreaux has made sure the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office is actively involved in the prevention of human trafficking and believes no human should be bought or sold. Detectives will continue to conduct these types of operations in the future for the safety and security of the people of Tulare County.
According to a past article posted by The Sun-Gazette, due to its location between hubs in Southern California and the Bay Area, along with its high number of vulnerable populations – such as migrant workers and foster youth – the Central Valley is particularly susceptible to all types of human trafficking, including sex trafficking and labor trafficking.
Statistically, nine in 10 of the affected population are women, three in 10 are minors, two-thirds were born in the United States and 80% of them are forced into prostitution. These numbers were pulled from the Central Valley Against Human Trafficking website and were last updated in 2020.
Senator Shannon Grove is currently working to pass Senate Bill (SB) 14, which will attempt to classify human trafficking of a minor as a serious felony, qualifying the crime under the “three strikes law,” should it pass. According to the bill, “California consistently ranks number one in the nation in the number of human trafficking cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.”
As covered by The Sun-Gazette, Exeter City Council voted unanimously to support this bill during their May 23 meeting. In that same article, Senator Grove’s thoughts on the bill were shared.
“It’s hard to believe that selling a human being over and over again is not considered a serious crime in California. Senate Bill 14 will protect countless children who are being trafficked and prevent this horrific crime from happening,” Grove stated via press release. “This bill is one of the missing pieces that is needed in order to address one of the most lucrative crimes in the world that is happening in communities across our state.”
This isn’t the only action being taken against sex trafficking. The TCSO and the county’s various police departments are constantly working to free sex slaves and arrest those who solicit them.
During May of 2022, the TCSO brought down a drug and sex trafficking operation, arresting 13 suspects, three of which were a father, mother and son. At that time, Tulare County Sheriff’s Department’s Media Supervisor Ashley Schwarm explained how some of the victims were lured in with promises of money and/or material products, like expensive bags or clothes. She cautioned that the sudden appearance of these items could serve as a red flag.
“I think for parents, it’s always a good message to make sure they’re communicating with their kids,” Schwarm said. “The more you know, and the more they talk to you, the better. And obviously, anytime you see something that looks suspicious or strange, always let (the Sheriff’s office) know.”
The Tulare County Sheriff’s Office can be contacted by calling 559-733-6218; alternatively, anyone with information can report it anonymously by emailing Tip Now at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 559-725-4194, which operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.