Human Trafficking – San Diego’s Modern Day Slavery

Human Trafficking, a topic of which many of us were not aware, is a significant problem in San Diego County. Crystal Anthony, Project Life project coordinator and case manager with North County Lifeline spoke on these horrors at the June club monthly meeting.

North County Lifeline was initially created by women who wanted to work to stop the impact of gangs in the area, and specifically as a response to law enforcement’s request to somehow combat the human trafficking problem. North County Lifeline’s mission is to build self-reliance through problem solving, skill-building and community-based services. Specifically, Project LIFE is an advocacy program that works with girls who have been victims of sex trafficking. In spite of North County Lifeline’s great work, the problem remains one that can only be mitigated through solutions embraced by our entire nation.

Human trafficking is defined by the California Legislature as “all acts involved in the recruitment, abduction, transport, harboring, transfer, sale or receipt of persons, within national or across international borders, through force, coercion, fraud or deception, to place persons in situations of slavery or slavery-like conditions, forced labor or services, such as forced prostitution or sexual services, domestic servitude, bonded sweatshop labor, or other debt bondage.”

The problem is enormous in San Diego County. Sex trafficking in the county is estimated to be a nearly $100 million a year industry, according to a recent study by the Urban Institute. 72% of victims of sex trafficking are citizens born in the United States. 90% of the prostitution in San Diego County is run by gangs and horrifically, San Diego County is rated 8th in the country for prostitution of girls under the age of 16, and it’s on the rise. Trafficking occurs everywhere: on internet based websites, residential brothels, massage parlors, truck stops, strip clubs and escort services to name a few. Recruitment occurs in such places as shopping malls, beaches, anywhere where victims can be found easily.

So what can be done to stop this egregious practice? The most important first step is simply raising awareness of the problem from all angles. Prevention programs through schools include training educators and creating curriculum that raises it as a discussion topic. Collaborating and partnering with service providers, law enforcement and faith based communities is essential.

Additionally the California legislature has enacted various laws to help solve the problem which are in the process of amendment to tighten regulations, prosecutions and help for victims.

SB 1388 amends existing law to “make a person who seeks to purchase or purchases a commercial sex act guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for at least 48 hours, but not more than 6 months, and by a fine of at least $1,000, and, if probation is granted, by a fine of at least $1,000, but not more than $50,000, to be deposited in the Victim-Witness Assistance Fund to fund grants to local programs.” It is currently awaiting passage by the Assembly.

AB 1747 created the California Massage Therapy Council and provided for the voluntary certification of massage practitioners and massage therapists by the council. Amendments to this bill have been proposed that would make the records of the council open to public, require an approved or registered school to notify its students if the council has removed approval of the school, require the council to notify the municipality where a certificate holder is operating when the council has revoked a massage certificate, allow charge of a licensing fee and tightens up licensing requirements. Most importantly, it will prohibit sexual activity and authorize revoking of licenses if any employee is arrested for engagement in any activity related to prostitution. The bill is currently stalled in committee.

SB 939, introduced by our own Senator Marty Block, amends existing law to add human trafficking, pimping, and pandering to the specified offenses covered by the bill and streamlines jurisdictional procedures to make prosecution easier across multiple counties. It has passed the Senate and is awaiting action by the Assembly.

It is important to realize that the victims are not always women and young girls; boys and special needs children are also targets. The above bills will add significant help to reigning in this problem, and it is important we let our legislators know that we support these actions. If you care about this topic, please contact your local Assembly member and Senator to voice your support.