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Human Trafficking Spreading In Calif.

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The number of people identified as victims of human trafficking in California has increased steadily since 2010 as the crime has become a growing threat, California Attorney General Kamala Harris reported Friday.

There were 304 victims from April through June of this year — the latest period available — a figure that is triple the 100 victims during the same period of 2011, Harris said in the report.

The number has increased during each three-month period since the fourth quarter of 2010, when there were 80. The total number of victims over those two years now stands at 1,277.

The report says the number is likely much higher because many crimes go unreported and the numbers come only from task forces formed to combat human trafficking.

"Criminal organizations have determined it is a low-risk, high-reward crime. We are here to change that calculus," Harris said.

The report offers one of the more detailed assessments in California of a crime that is gaining more attention from law enforcement and the public. Earlier this month, California voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure that toughens penalties on people convicted of human trafficking, which involves controlling a person for forced labor or sexual exploitation.

Harris, who released the report at a human trafficking conference at the University of Southern California, said one of its more surprising findings was that 72 percent of the victims in California were U.S. citizens, undercutting a widely held perception that those persecuted in the United States generally come from other countries.

The report said more research was needed to determine why that number was so high, but it speculated that foreigners may be reluctant to tell authorities where they are from.

The report said 56 percent of cases involved victims of sex trafficking, while 21 percent were victims of labor trafficking. The percentage of labor trafficking victims is higher worldwide, leading the authors to believe labor trafficking might be getting counted less in California.

Harris said in an interview that the increase in victims reflects the growing workload of the task forces and enhanced training for law enforcement.

The nine task forces, made up of federal, state and local agencies along with nongovernment organizations, were set up over the past decade from the San Francisco Bay area to San Diego.

The task forces opened 390 investigations during the second quarter of this year, nearly triple the 135 investigations that began in the third quarter of 2010. A total of 2,252 investigations were opened from July 2010 to June 2012.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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