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, authorities 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, Attorney General Kamala Harris said in a report.
The number of victims 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.
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 said one of the 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.
Nine task forces including 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.
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 units 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.
The number of arrests reported by the task forces reached 377 during the second quarter of this year - nearly double the 211 arrests during the same period of 2011. There were 1,798 arrests over the two-year period.
"The more we train local law enforcement, the more we do outreach to victims, the more likely they will be to catch the predators and lock them up," Harris said.
There have been 441 arrests for human trafficking under a state statute that was introduced in 2006, including 133 arrests in 2011, the highest annual tally, the report said. There have been 113 convictions under the statue, peaking at 28 last year.