The San Diego County Board of Supervisors backed efforts to work with schools and the hotel industry to report human trafficking across the region.
During their Tuesday meeting, the supervisors discussed three new initiatives to fight the illicit industry, which is San Diego’s second largest underground economy after drug trafficking. A recent study by the University of San Diego and Point Loma Nazarene University showed human trafficking rakes in an estimated $810 million a year.
The proposed initiatives include educating motel and hotel staff on sex trafficking and working with school employees and students on what signs to look for in identifying the crime. The District Attorney’s office is also helping to launch a new public awareness campaign called "The Ugly Truth."
“Who can become a victim? Really anybody, and sadly San Diego is on the top 13 cities for child prostitution,” said San Diego Chief Deputy District Attorney Summer Stephan, who is leading the local human trafficking task force.
Stephan visited Hoover High School Tuesday to discuss the problem in an interview that will broadcast to the entire student body Wednesday.
Authorities say an estimated 8,000 to 12,000 sex trafficking victims live in the San Diego region, and most of them are young girls around 13 years old. Recruitment is happening at almost every school in the county, so the task force wants to make educating students and teachers a top priority.
“Initially it's offered as a boyfriend or some glamor operation, a movie, or becoming a model, but then what it turns into is a lifetime of sexual exploitation,” said Stephan.
At the state level, California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) announced human trafficking reforms that would essentially treat the buying and selling of sex separately. That means there would be harsher punishment for those buying it and no punishment for trafficked victims who are minors.
“It's long-term,” said Supervisor Dianne Jacob. “It's not an easy issue to talk about; it's not an easy issue to tackle but we must.”