San Diego County, known for its beauty and promise, is now marred by the grim reality of human trafficking. According to the FBI, San Diego is one of the country's 13 hotspots for human trafficking.
A study by the University of San Diego and Point Loma Nazarene University estimates sex trafficking generates more than $810 M annually for San Diego's underground economy, with up to 8,000 victims per year, with victims averaging 16 years old. The same study found that 90% of high schools researched across San Diego County reported cases of sex trafficking and that 100% of those schools reported recruitment of their students.
I am committed to pushing forward legislation that will tackle human trafficking head-on by focusing on a crucial aspect: awareness and education.
Earlier today, I joined forces with District Attorney Summer Stephan, Chair Nora Vargas, and Superintendent Gothold to unveil a Board letter dedicated to combating human trafficking.
Human trafficking is a grave violation of human rights, exploiting individuals for labor and sex through force, deception, and manipulation. The chilling truth is that our schools are not immune.
Predators target young girls and boys, subjecting them to a life of sexual exploitation through coercion and manipulation. These victims are thrust into an abyss of despair, their dreams and aspirations shattered and replaced with unimaginable suffering. Yet, it's not only the realm of sex trafficking that scars our community; labor trafficking also casts a long, grim shadow. Men, women, and children are lured under pretenses, trapped in a web of forced labor, debt bondage, and psychological torment.
That is the issue before us, but I firmly believe we can be a beacon of hope in this darkness – through an education-focused approach to combat human trafficking. On Tuesday, August 29, I'm partnering with Chairwoman Nora Vargas and our District Attorney, Summer Stephan, on a board letter agenda item to address this head-on, but we need your help! I implore you to consider the lives we can save by equipping our children and their parents with knowledge that could be the difference between freedom and captivity.
The County Education Office currently provides anti-trafficking education for seventh and eighth-grade students. But, out of 500,000 students, only a fraction are getting prevention education. Too few teachers and parents know about trafficking and child exploitation.
In an age where predators and traffickers exploit social media to intrude into our children's personal spaces with a click, fulfilling the bare minimum of educating students once or twice throughout their academic journey falls significantly short.
Education is power. For human trafficking, it holds the potential to prevent our youth from becoming victims. I am advocating for a curriculum that raises awareness about the tactics employed by traffickers, the red flags of potential trafficking situations, and how to seek help if they or someone they know falls victim to this sinister trade.
By instilling this curriculum from an early age, we can cultivate a generation that's vigilant and compassionate. Young minds armed with the tools to identify and thwart human trafficking can be our greatest allies in this fight. With their empowered actions, we build a stronger, safer San Diego for everyone.
Our strategy for a more secure future encompasses several critical elements:
- Increasing human trafficking evidence-based training and educational materials across the County to parents/guardians, students, school staff, and teachers
- Working with education institutions, officials, and the California State Legislature to require enhanced human trafficking awareness education in the classroom for all staff, teachers, and students.
- Explore opportunities for additional funding to support on-campus human trafficking prevention programs.
This grade-appropriate curriculum is indispensable in addressing the challenges that our region is currently confronting.
Furthermore, we are proposing the initiation of a human trafficking awareness promotion campaign that showcases the risks and signs to be vigilant for. The power of this campaign lies in its ability to infiltrate public spaces – from billboards to posters near transit stations, ensuring no corner of our County remains untouched by this vital message.
Let us not forget that this isn't a battle confined to gender; boys, too, are frequently targeted. In fact, as shocking as it may be, up to 50% of trafficked children in the United States are boys. The age of entry into sexual trafficking for these young boys is harrowingly between 11 to 13 years old. This collective crisis knows no bounds regardless of age, gender, income level, or other factors.
Together, we can stand up against the darkness that seeks to engulf our community. Let us be known not for the horrors that transpire within our borders but for our unwavering resolve to protect the vulnerable and secure a brighter future for our children. Let this legislation be the turning point, the rallying cry that echoes through generations. Let us unite, educate, and fortify ourselves against human trafficking for the sake of justice, compassion, and the hope that a safer, more just San Diego is within our grasp.