Autumn Burris, 49, says her introduction into prostitution started slowly.
“I’m going to start with a little dancing. It’s no big deal. I’m going to pay some stuff off. Then I’m going to get out,” Burris said. “It doesn’t work like that.”
She ended up prostituting for 15 years. Health problems, legal issues and violence finally took their toll.
“I was so tired of living that life and being beaten down,” she said. “The only way I got out was because there was another survivor who sat across from me and said, ‘Fifteen years ago, I was sitting where you are. Let me help you.’”
Today, Burris is the founder of Survivors for Solutions, an organization that helps sexually exploited women. She is also helping the city of San Diego with a new poster campaign designed to combat sex trafficking.
More than 400 local businesses will be legally required to post a special flier. The anti-sex trafficking posters will appear in places like massage parlors, strip clubs, bus stops, truck stops and urgent care centers as required under legislation passed in 2012.
On Thursday, San Diego Interim Mayor Todd Gloria, San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and members of the community gathered to discuss the launch of the campaign.
According to the FBI, sex trafficking is now the biggest money maker for gangs, replacing drugs and guns. Officials said sex trafficking is growing in San Diego because of its gang presence and close proximity to the border.
“Human slavery is the equivalent of modern day slavery and is often difficult to detect,” Gloria said. “The FBI has identified California as one of the top four states for trafficked persons.”
Authorities say predators start recruiting girls as young at 12-years-old. The life expectancy for girls after joining the sex trade is only seven years.
San Diego officials say the new poster campaign will give members of the business community and their customers the chance to be the “eyes and ears” of investigators.
There is a 24-hour hotline phone number listed on the poster through which victims or callers can speak to trained professional counselors and experts.
The posters have been mailed out to local businesses already.
Under the California law which was approved in September 2012, business owners who do not comply are liable for a $500 fine on their first offense and a $1,000 for each subsequent offense.
Officials say the state of Texas started posting similar fliers four years ago. Since then, the number of reports has increased by 20 percent.