Ask your local librarian where to find a certain book, and they’ll lead you to the exact spot on the shelf. Ask them how to spot a sex trafficking victim, and they can now tell you that as well.
More than 800 staff members at all of San Diego’s 36 library locations recently received training on how to spot sex trafficking victims, how to start a conversation with them, and ultimately how to steer them to the appropriate resources for help.
“We actually had a situation where we had a teen that was in one of our study rooms and was asleep, and one of the staff approached her, and after a lot of conversation found out that she was a victim of sex trafficking,” said Misty Jones, San Diego Library director.
She said the encounter woke them up to the problem and how they could help fix it.
Local law enforcement statistics show an alarming rise in sex and human trafficking cases. San Diego is one of the top 10 worst cities in America for human trafficking, and Jones said it is the second most lucrative industry in the region, right behind drug trafficking.
"It's a big problem with gangs," said Jones. "Gangs are actually trafficking people more so than trafficking drugs now."
A $25,000 grant from the Rancho Santa Fe Women's fund, matched by another $25,000 from the San Diego Public Library Foundation, will pay for the campaign called “Out of the Shadows."
The campaign focused first on training library employees and now turns to public awareness.
“A lot of people walk around with blinders on and pretend it doesn’t happen, or don’t want to see it’s happening, so that’s how I see our role is kind of an awareness, waking people up, and letting them know it’s going on,” said Jones.
She sees libraries as a safe, neutral place where difficult conversations about sex trafficking can take place. More than that, every staff member now knows what resources are available to help the industry's victims.