Crime and Courts

Anti-Human Trafficking Sting Leads to 48 Arrests in San Diego and National City

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A month-long anti-human trafficking operation targeting suspected traffickers and prospective commercial sex customers resulted in 48 arrests in San Diego and National City, authorities announced Tuesday.

Operation Better Pathways, which was held between Jan. 9 and Feb. 10, involved law enforcement surveillance of "areas known for sexual exploitation in San Diego and National City." Specifically, San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit said the operation zeroed in on Dalbergia and Roosevelt Streets.

Undercover officers posed as people offering sex for sale, resulting in the four dozen arrests for alleged crimes ranging from human trafficking of a minor to assault with a deadly weapon. Additionally, 41 other people -- including eight children -- were offered support services as a result of the operation.

One of those children included a 13-year-old. A 17-year-old girl and her pregnant 21-year-old sister also received support services.

But Nisleit and District Attorney said the number of victims will only continue to rise, unless state lawmakers repeal SB 357.

SB 357 decriminalized the act of loitering with the intent to commit prostitution. In an interview with NBC 7 last August, the bill’s author, State Sen. Scott Weiner argued that without it, police officers far too often profiled transgender people and Black and Latino women.

But Nisleit told reporters Tuesday that the law now makes it hard for his officers to approach sex trafficking victims.

“How many more victims do we need to have of sex trafficking before we realize this is not a good law?” asked Nisleit.

“The fastest way to trap somebody in a life of prostitution is to arrest them for it,” said Kaytlin Bailey in response to the chief’s remarks. Bailey penned an op-ed supporting SB 357. “The only way to reduce violence and exploitation is to increase the negotiating power of victims, but we cannot help people we are hunting.”

Those arrested are being referred for possible state and/or federal criminal prosecution, according to the California Attorney General's Office.

In a statement, San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephen said, "I personally visited the National City and San Diego City locations that this operation targeted and what I saw was appalling. Young women being openly trafficked in broad daylight, with individuals paying for sex lined up like they were going through a fast-food drive thru."

More than 1,300 human trafficking cases were reported in 2021 in California, more than any other state, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. The California Attorney General's Office statement on Operation Better Pathways states that human trafficking is prevalent in the hospitality, commercial sex, domestic work and construction industries, and victims are also found among migrant and seasonal agricultural workers, providers of residential care and in California's garment sector.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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