DA: Human Trafficking Prosecutions on Rise in San Diego

The number of human trafficking cases convicted and prosecuted in San Diego County has more than tripled over the past four years, District Attorney Bonnie M. Dumanis announced Friday.

According to the DA’s office, under the state’s sex trafficking statutes, a total of 40 human trafficking cases were prosecuted in San Diego in 2012 – a big jump from nine cases prosecuted by the DA’s office in 2009.

In 2013, 46 human trafficking cases were submitted to the San Diego Count DA’s office, with 43 defendants charged in those cases.

Dumanis said 50 local victims of human trafficking were identified in 2013, including nine minors.

The DA’s office released the statistics amid National Human Trafficking Awareness month and day, which is Saturday.

These numbers come just days after federal authorities arrested two dozen suspected North Park gang members in San Diego in connection with a cross-country sex trafficking ring involving dozens of female victims, including underage girls.

On Wednesday, following a warrant sweep across the county, officials revealed the bust was part of a year-long operation into the large-scale sex trafficking ring, which spans 46 cities across 23 states and involves 60 victims from San Diego.

Officials said gang members from the local group “BMS” allegedly acted as pimps, luring the women into a life of prostitution by using rap videos posted on social media that promised the women a glamorous, lavish lifestyle.

Once the victims became prostitutes, the suspects would allegedly “brand” their recruits with tattoos of gang symbols, bar codes or even a pimp’s name, and exchange the women among themselves as needed.

Dumanis said the human trafficking trend is disturbing and must be stopped.

“It’s clear that human trafficking is on the rise in our county,” Dumanis said Friday. “The crime is nothing more than modern day slavery that’s victimizing young women and girls from neighborhoods across San Diego. We’ve made it a priority in our office to collaborate with our law enforcement partners in the fight against human trafficking, holding offenders accountable and reaching out to victims.”

According to Dumanis, the biggest trend in human trafficking today is the increasing involvement of street gangs in the activity.

“[Gangs are engaging] in human trafficking as a money-making operation that in some cases is replacing drug dealing,” Dumanis explained.

Much like in this latest sex trafficking bust, the DA said young victims are being recruited via social media. Pimps are also looking for recruits at malls, high schools, middle schools, bus stops and on the trolley.

Many times, Dumanis said homeless teens are being targeted and lured into prostitution on promises of a better life.

“We’re seeing teenage girls recruited by pimps or boyfriends who may be gang members with promises of easy money and attention,” Dumanis said. “Once they’re under the control of the gang, the victims are tattooed, branded, and beaten to maintain control over them.”

At the end of this month, Dumanis – along with County Supervisor Dianne Jacob, San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore and the San Diego County Regional Human Trafficking and CSEC Advisory Council – are slated to host a Human Trafficking Summit coordinated by the San Diego County Regional Human Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Advisory Council. The summit will bring individuals and agencies together to identify ways to improve the continuing fight against human trafficking.

In the meantime, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center continues to work to raise awareness on the topic. The center’s hotline can be reached at (888) 373-7888.

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