One Year Ago Today (January 10, 2022)…Riverside County’s annual Human Trafficking Conference” will begin, continuing until in a virtual forum focused on deterring sex crimes against children and ending labor exploitation.

The 2022 conference will be hosted by the Department of Public Social Services, featuring multiple speakers and breakout sessions.

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Speakers will zero in on factors that lead to youths falling victim to sex traffickers, including substance abuse and homelessness, according to organizers.

Million Kids CEO Singleton Hendershot, who will be among the guests, said the internet has become fertile ground for exploiters.

“Online predators work to gain the trust of children who are often already emotionally vulnerable, and they use that to prey on youth,” Singleton said.

In 2020 — the most recent year for which statistics were available — law enforcement agencies in the county investigated 200 cases of sex trafficking, according to DPSS.

“Every child deserves to be protected from exploitation, and this event provides parents, guardians and community partners with tangible tools to help keep our kids safe,” Department of Children’s Services Assistant Director Charity Douglas said.

In addition to Singleton, the slate of speakers includes Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin, Desert Aids Project Community Health Director Grace Ayala and Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center Victim Advocacy Director Denise Bowman.

Along with the sexual enslavement of teenagers, the conference will examine how youths and adults can be reduced to servile labor, mainly in the underground economy.

The conference coincides with National Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

Officials asked anyone with information regarding potential human trafficking offenses, or victims in need of help, to contact the 24-hour national hotline at 888-373-7888.

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