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Santa Barbara County Receives $95,000 for Human-Trafficking Victim Advocate

A recently awarded state grant will help combat human-trafficking activity in Santa Barbara County, and $95,000 will fund a full-time victim-witness advocate who will work directly with victims.

Officials at the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office have said in the past that human trafficking is a growing issue, and the office was awarded grant funding in April 2015 from the California Office of Emergency Services to deal with the problem..

That money will allow an advocate to work with trafficking victims full-time, helping to connect them to housing and services, said Megan Rheinschild, Victim-Witness Assistance Program director for the District Attorney's Office.

Biannet Garcia Vargas will be working as the victim-witness program advocate, Rheinschild said, adding that Vargas will be especially valuable to help connect victims with safe and secure housing, which is in short supply.

Vargas is being trained right now for the position, which is new to the District Attorney’s Office this year.

The DA’s office formed a Human Trafficking Task Force last year, and it has been working with law enforcement agencies to respond to sexually exploited minors as victims rather than prostitution offenders. 

In addition to training law enforcement, Rheinschild said, the task force is also working to better engage the faith community to target the issue.

“That’s in the works right now,” she said.

Other county departments, such as Probation, courts and the county's Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services, are also in the midst of crafting programs to better help victims of human trafficking.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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