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Strip clubs working with law enforcement to stop human trafficking

Local strip clubs are teaming up with law enforcement to help fight against human trafficking.
January 15, 2014 12:00:00 AM PST
Local strip clubs across Southern California, including Deja Vu in North Hollywood, are teaming up with law enforcement to help fight against human trafficking.

Strip club owner and Club Operators Against Sex Trafficking co-founder Michael Ocello teaches a standing room only crowd of club owners, bouncers, waiters, and entertainers all about the dangers of human trafficking.

"This is an unusual relationship, everybody who hears about it is kind of like, 'wait, wait, wait, can you say that one more time,'" said Ocello.

He founded COAST after he was questioned about a trafficked woman working in one of his clubs.

"What we identified was that we didn't know what human trafficking is, we don't know what the indicators are, and if we did see something, we didn't know what to do," said Ocello.

He then called the Homeland Security Department and offered to help.

"It took me back a little bit when I received a phone call about engaging in a presentation with them, it's not a normal relationship that you might see," said Dwayne Angebrandt from the Department of Homeland Security.

Ocello believes COAST may help save a life.

The U.N. says trafficking is a $32 billion industry. The State Department says 15,000 people are trafficked in the U.S. every year.

"You need to speak for them, to be their voice so they can get out of the situation that they're in," said Angebrandt.

The group has trained more than 4,000 people from strip clubs nationwide over a period of three years. Each person is given a card and or pamphlet which details signs to look out for.

Potential warning signs include the same man picking up and dropping a woman off every day, signs of physical abuse, and marking tattoos like bar codes.

"You see it and you just know that there's more to it," said an entertainer who only wanted to be identified as 'Alyssa.'

She says she's seen several potential trafficking victims at strip clubs, but never knew how to help them. After attending a COAST meeting, she says she's ready to start working with authorities.

"It puts a face on it," said Alyssa. "It's not just you calling the cops, you know, you're calling somebody that's there to help, not there to make the situation worse."

January is Human Trafficking Awareness month.

For more information on this campaign, visit www.dhs.gov/topic/human-trafficking.


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