The secret safe-houses that shelter women breaking away from forced prostitution in San Diego are easy to miss.
They blend in seamlessly with the other homes in the neighborhoods where they are located.
And that’s the point.
An organization called Generate Hope has created a few, rare sanctuaries to house, heal, educate and psychologically counsel young women who often have been viewed as criminals instead of victims.
Executive Director Susan Muncey knows otherwise. A social worker and survivor herself, she hears the stories how young women both enter and get trapped in prostitution. The stories are virtually the same.
Tiffany Mester, who described her home life as unstable, entered the “game,” as it is called on the street when she was 13 described meeting a man who became her boyfriend—or so she thought.
“He told me he had just gotten kicked out of his mother’s house and asked if I could help him out just a little bit”.
Now in love with the man who turned out to be a pimp, he asked her just once to have sex with a paying customer. She complied hoping that would be the end of it. It was only the begining.
Susan Muncey explains, “Once a girl turns one trick, her life is never the same. And he is not the same. She sees a brutal side of him”.
Tiffany says she was beaten repeatedly and threatened constantly if she attempted to leave the control of her pimp who would advertise sessions with her on classified-ads web sites. It wasn’t until a year and a half later when her pimp got arrested did she feel safe leaving.
More and more, these types of stories are emerging as advocates push for changes in laws that will protect girls and women in the trap survivors call sexual slavery.
Proposition 35, on the ballot Tuesday, is intended to strengthen jail times for human traffickers as well as train police officers to better recognize underage and non-consensual prostitutes with the goal of getting them help instead of arresting them.
While not all support the measure, it is being proposed amid shocking statistics that aren’t disputed: That San Diego is among the top 8 cities nationwide for child sexual exploitation. And that the age many pimps recruit San Diego girls into prostitution is 13.
That is the reason San Diego-based Generate Hope now plans to open another safe-house, this one specifically for minors.
The non-profit already has seen remarkable success stories for its efforts with survivors. Many of their residents have gone on to college, good jobs and successful lives.