San Diego

New Course at USD Aims to Fight Human Trafficking with Empathy

Human trafficking is San Diego's largest underground economy after drug trafficking, but a new course at the University of San Diego aims to use empathy to fight the at the destructive industry.

Among the many challenges to fighting the trafficking market is the amount of misconceptions about human and sex trafficking, especially here in San Diego.

In 2016, our local underground sex economy had an estimated revenue of $810 million.

People want to help, but too often, they don't know what those who've experienced exploitation first hand actually need. The new program at USD is looking to change that.

Jaimee Johnson – a mother of three, a mentor, an Oceanside native, and a Lived Experience Expert -- says she’s so much more than a survivor.

“In order to be a survivor, that's always attaching me to the word victim and for me that didn't feel good and it didn't feel empowering, and it didn't feel like I'm more than my story which I am,” Johnson said.

Johnson works as a passionate fighter for those who have experienced human trafficking or exploitation and is eager to welcome a new generation to the fight.

“The more people there are to attack the issue and understand the issue the closer we are to getting to a solution,” she said.

That’s where USD law professor Jessica Heldman and Free to Thrive's Jamie Beck come in.

In partnership with universities across the country, the two and others have come up with a graduate class at USD which will allow students to connect directly with those impacted by human trafficking.

The goal is to develop empathy to help outside the classroom.

“They can use what they learn and what they know to develop innovative solutions, maybe come up with ideas that others haven't thought of before,” Heldman said.

Beck said there are plenty of people out there who want to help fight human trafficking, but not many who are willing to tap into the lives of survivors.

Johnson said a good place to start would be focusing on restoring the lives of survivors rather than a cycle of punishment.

“In order to eradicate any issue, we're going to have to do it as a team,” Johnson said. “It takes a village to do anything.”

Johnson knows first-hand the importance of empathy, and says those on the outside looking in can only develop real empathy once they stop stigmatizing.

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