A new study is shedding light on the dark details surrounding the sex trafficking industry across eight cities nationwide, including San Diego, showing just how big of a problem it has become across the county.
As one child advocate told NBC 7 on Wednesday, pimps don't discriminate when it comes to luring in victims of sex trafficking, targeting children of all races across all parts of the county.
“No one is exempt. The predator is very, very able and savvy on how to recruit,” said Marisa Ugarte, executive director of the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition (BSCC).
For the study, researchers from The Urban Institute interviewed convicted pimps and sex traffickers who made between $5,000 and $32,000 per week working in the sordid industry.
Ugarte, who’s been an advocate for exploited men, women and children for over two decades said the underground commercial sex economy is everywhere in San Diego, in places like Vista, Escondido Eastlake, La Jolla, Balboa Park and National City.
"In National City we have a big problem because of the military base. Ninety percent of the victims, if not 99% of the alleged victims of human trafficking, their primary client was the military," she explained.
Ugarte said the internet makes it easier for pimps to recruit young children quickly and quietly.
"The internet is becoming the biggest recruiter because it's private, parents don't know what their children are doing, so it's very easy," she said.
Manolo Guillen, vice president with the International Network of Hearts, said that in San Diego, selling sex has surpassed the sale of drugs. And, with the internet as a medium for selling and buying sex, it can be difficult to trace everyone associated with the industry.
“Anonymity is a big problem because just with a click of a mouse, met can go online and go on pages like Backpage and immediately order sex,” said Guillen.
With no signs of slowing, pimps are finding few limitations in this lucrative industry, which many pimps consider low-risk.
"I think what pimps realize, and gangs by the way, is that they can sell drugs but after that point of sale, there's no profit for them. But they can sell a child or a woman over and over and over," Guillen added.
Guillen said awareness and collaboration is crucial in stopping human trafficking. On Thursday, his organization will sponsor a conference at the Chula Vista Council Chambers that will bring together government and non-government organizations to help in the fight against local sex trafficking.