H.E.A.T. Watch may sound like a term used to describe summer’s impending warm weather, but on the streets of Oakland, Calif., in areas actress Jada Pinkett Smith refers to as the “track,” it represents help for the estimated 200,000 minors who fall victim to human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation in the United States each year.
It’s a crisis that Smith says her daughter, Willow, brought to her attention, and one that proves to be especially critical for young girls Willow’s age.
On the eve of the U.S. State Department’s 2012 human trafficking report, Smith sat down for an exclusive interview with The Huffington Post, sharing her knowledge of the trafficking crisis at hand and how an encounter with actress Salma Hayek prompted Smith to lend her own voice to the cause.
“We’ve always looked at human trafficking as being a problem over there, somewhere else, but it’s actually happening inside of our borders … in our own backyard,” Smith said. For her, the battleground is Oakland, where she’s been boning up on information and drawing up an advocacy plan.
“Oakland is basically the center of my education. [It’s] where they’ve created the H.E.A.T. Watch program, which is a task force specifically trained to deal with human trafficking,” she said. It’s also where officials have begun to close in on child trafficking rings and earlier this month shuttered two motels thought to be hotbeds for illegal activity.
According to the Los Angeles Times, California is home to three of the FBI’s 13 highest-ranked areas for child-sex trafficking — Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego.
Smith’s efforts to stop trafficking parallel those of many others in the state, including representatives from Facebook and Microsoft who last month joined law enforcement and nonprofit leaders to create a new Department of Justice task force on human trafficking. Their goal is to devise best-practice guidelines for those combating human trafficking locally and online.
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article courtesy of TheHuffingtonPost.com