Human trafficking has become such a danger in California that San Diego County that it will be part of the curriculum at seven local school districts.
The San Diego County District Attorney's Office announced it will spend $3 million to fund The San Diego Trafficking Prevention Collective.
Education about human trafficking will be available to 237,000 students in the following districts: San Diego Unified, Sweetwater Union High School, Escondido Union High School, San Dieguito Union High School, Poway Unified and San Pasqual Union Elementary School.
“Schools have to be the place where we begin this fight,” San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said Tuesday.
An online program called "Protect" will be used to inform teachers about human trafficking so they can help their students in the 5, 7, 9 and 11th grades.
"Project Roots" encourages children to talk with someone about abuse. The program is already in 16 schools but will be expanded to other schools in the participating districts.
Middle and high school teenagers can engage in an immersive program called "kNOw More" that uses drama to share with students the red flags around trafficking.
The programs will be funded through a private/public partnership involving the UBS Optimus Foundation. The organization raised $2.5 million in community donations and then matched 20 percent of those donations.
“We saw this as a place where the right ingredients were there for private philanthropy could to play a really catalytic role in helping to drive sustained change on this most pressing issue," Head Philanthropic Programs Sally Faiz said.
Sex trafficking survivor Jaimee Johnson was sold into prostitution and for five years amassed customers in several southern California cities by placing ads online.
Johnson is now an advocate and works to expose the horrors of sex trafficking.
"From the very first time I was able to facilitate “kNOw More” I remember thinking that if I had the opportunity to get this education myself, how different my life could have been," she said.
Human trafficking is a form of human slavery and can involve someone being forced to work as a laborer, a restaurant worker, a helper in the home or a prostitute. It affects adults and children and the threat can be either physical or psychological.
San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco are three of the ten worst child sex trafficking areas in the U.S. The large immigrant population in our state and the access to the U.S.-Mexico border draw for those looking to exploit people, officials say.