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STOLEN INNOCENCE: HUMAN TRAFFICKING IN SAN DIEGO COUNTY




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"Imagine yourself, 8-years-old, stripped naked, on the ground, on the bathroom floor, chained, crying for your mommy." 

– Angela, Survivor
 
Story and photos by Ron Logan
 
April 9, 2012 (San Diego) – If you believe that human trafficking is not a problem in San Diego County – you would be wrong. Very wrong. Human trafficking is happening right now, across our region, even as you read this. And it is happening on our front porch.
 
The FBI has identified America's Finest City as a high intensity child prostitution area and a gateway to international sex trafficking. In fact, it is one of the top 13 cities in the nation with the highest incidence of child prostitution. It is happening everywhere. On Hotel Circle. On El Cajon Boulevard. On Main Street near the 32nd Street Naval Base. On Main Street in El Cajon. In National City. In Vista. In Spring Valley. And in many other locales. In fact, you probably drive and walk past victims of human trafficking in your neighborhood every day--and you don't even know it.
 
On Saturday, April 7, human trafficking was the focus of a local awareness event and day of action. It was organized and presented by the Radical Feminists of Occupy San Diego. It began with a march from 30th Street and El Cajon Boulevard, continued down "the blade" (El Cajon Boulevard), and culminated at the bus stop at 40th Street where guest speakers discussed different aspects of the problem that affects our local residents and our children. The most riveting speech was delivered by a young woman – a survivor of human trafficking. It was her story that compelled me to write this article.
 
Human trafficking is, depending on the source, the second or third most profitable criminal activity in the world. It is an estimated $9 billion dollar per year industry. 
 
According to event organizer Cathy Mendonça of the Radical Feminists of Occupy San Diego, the term "human trafficking" pertains to the use of human beings as a commodity for the profit of others, a modern day form of slavery. Total profits from human trafficking are around $44 billion. Currently there is an estimated 27 million people trapped in slavery around the world and 13 million of them are children. Human trafficking includes forced labor, forced servitude, forced sexual exploitation, human organ sales and illegal adoptions. Mendonça states that every day there are more than 1.3 million teens who are homeless or runaways and who are vulnerable to sex exploitation. 
 
Data from the Family Justice Center in San Diego (www.sandiego.gov/sandiegofamilyjusticecenter) suggests that approximately 45,000 people are trafficked into the United States every year.  Right here in the U.S., over 150,000 young American men and women are subjected to commercial sex exploitation every year. The average age of victims first being trafficked is 11 years old [no, that is not a typo]. 70 percent of human trafficking victims are women, 40 percent are children. Sex slaves may service as many as 130 clients per week. In San Diego county, there are between 15,000 to 20,000 children on the street at any given time. One out of three teens on the street are lured towards prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home. The average jail time for traffickers is three to eight years – 50 percent will only serve only half their sentence after “good behavior.”
 
"It is so difficult to understand the magnitude of this problem," said event host Mitchell Sterling of Occupy San Diego. "Our children's lives are being devastated, and their dreams are being stolen. When you hear the personal accounts from survivors of the sexual, physical, and emotional abuse they endure it makes me cry, and then it makes me angry and makes me want to redouble my efforts to doing everything necessary to bring an end to human trafficking."
 
"Not many people understand or really believe that an idea like human trafficking exists, especially in a city like San Diego, but it does." said Marla Laguardia, Traffic Coordinator for Af3irm San Diego. (www.af3irm.org) "And that's why we're here today. We're here to create that kind of awareness."
 
"At this moment human trafficking is going on," said Enrique Morones, Founder of Border Angels (www.borderangels.org). "At this moment, somebody, against their will, is being forced to have sex with another human being, and this horrible, horrible situation is happening all over the world… a lot of this is based on the demand, and that demand comes from the United States."
 
Morones is a recipient of the coveted Othli Award and is recognized by Hispanic Business Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential Latinos in the United States.

 
"There is not a boulevard in San Diego that has more of a history of prostitution than El Cajon Boulevard…" stated Morones. "This boulevard is notorious." 
 
"It's important that we speak out," he continued. "It's important that we have these kinds of actions… and the only way we are going to make change is by reaching out to someone, telling them we are there for them, that we love them, we care for them." 
 
Anne Hoilberg of the Women's Museum of California (www.womensmuseumca.org) recalled something she read in the Union-Tribune in 1996. Hoilberg stated, "It mentioned that a million children were currently working as prostitutes every night throughout the world. I said, 'What? A million children working every night as prostitutes?'" 
 
In 2012, that number is now over 2 million.
 
How did we get into this debacle? 
 
Well, if we examine the sex trade problem using an historical perspective, many of the sex trade problems of today were our own doing.
 
Much of the world sex trade was formed to service the United States military while at home and abroad. "It goes back thousands of years..." said Hoilberg. "During World War II, 200,000 women were kidnapped and served as sex slaves for the Japanese military."
 
The supply follows demand. She continued, "Of course, wherever the military is, soon will be brothels, soon will be sex entertainment, facilities, et cetera." 
 
To this day, despite trying, the South Korean government has been unable to shut down all the brothels in the red light districts that were established to meet the needs of the U.S. military personnel during the Korean War. "We still have our troops there, about 30,000, and now women are being trafficked into South Korea because South Korean women have better jobs and do not have to work as prostitutes."
 
Hoilberg stated that similar sex industries were created in Thailand during the Vietnam war due to contracts made by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara ensuring rest and recreation for U.S. troops. This also impacted the sex industry in the Philippines where 50,000 prostitutes were servicing about 10,000 military personnel. This left 50,000 children born to U.S. servicemen. 
 
"As a result of having established the sex industry in Okinawa, in Vietnam, in the Philippines, and in Thailand, now those countries are dealing with the issue of sex tourism…" said Hoilberg. "Cambodia also currently has 100,000 women and girls who work as prostitutes and 30 percent of those prostitutes in Phnom Penh are under the age of 18… Sex tourism in these countries is big, big business."
 
Hoilberg contends there are similar consequences from the Bosnian, Afghanistan, and Iraq wars. 
 
The solution? She suggests that "we need to look at creating a fundamental cultural shift in how men relate to women."
 
Apart from its military beginnings, sex trafficking has a profound effect on the immigrant community, creates victims of forced marriage, and impacts the LGBT community.
 
When asked by event organizer Mendonça to speak about LGBT issues at the event, Ruth "Tikki" Inacay, USD Rainbow Educator (www.sandiego.edu/unitedfront/leadership/rainbow_educators) realized she was not an expert and needed to do some research about the problem.
 
Inacay explained while fighting back tears, "I found the statistics and the information on what happens to LGBT youth when they become homeless, because their parents don't love them, when they become bullied at school and they can't take it anymore, so they run away, and they end up on our streets, homeless. Then they become targets of sex slavery. They become targets of substance abuse. They become targets and they're vulnerable to prostitution… I had to step away and I just cried. I cried because first of all I felt ashamed. I felt ashamed that here I am a part of my community, and I claim to be an advocate and I knew nothing about these issues. It broke my heart… the message I want to share today is 'Our gay children are not for sale!'"
 
She continued, "According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, in one study of homeless youth who are lesbian, gay or bisexual, or transgender, in Seattle, 37 percent identified as homosexual or bisexual. Among the entire sample, 35 percent had been beaten at least once, 39 percent had been robbed, 44 percent were threatened by weapons, 47 percent of the females and 30 percent of the males had prostituted and propositioned to take part of street economy by selling sex. 31 percent of the females and 13 percent of the males had been sexually assaulted… and that's just one study." 
 
One important tool we have, as a society, to help combat the problem of human trafficking is to educate our people about the trafficking trade and the breadth and width of its reach.
 
"We need to start educating girls, young girls, and everyone for that matter, about this issue, about what's going on, and about the steps that these traffickers and these pimps are taking to get these girls," said Brooke Spradlin, a representative of the Arizona organization Unchained (unchainedmovement.org). "Say you get into a fight with your parents and you run away from home… you're out on the street and someone approaches you and says 'Hey, you look like you could use a meal,' or 'you could use a place to stay, let me help you out,' and it turns out this man acts like your boyfriend for about a month.
 
He takes you to movies. He gets your nails done. He buys you clothes. He buys you jewelry. He tells you he loves you. You fall in love with him. And at the end of the month he says 'I'm a pimp. I'm a sex trafficker and you're going to work for me. You don't have a choice. I'm either going to beat you or tell your parents about it.' And they don't really have a choice at this point. They are already addicted to some kind of drugs, they are in love with their trafficker, their pimp, they don't want to leave… These pimps will do whatever it takes to get these girls."
 
Spradlin concluded that people need to stand-up for stronger laws against sex trafficking in order to get the traffickers off the streets and create a deterrent to the trade.
 
According to Estela de Los Rios, Executive Director for CSA San Diego, men are also victimized.  De Los Rios has been working in the North County area with immigrant labor trafficking issues for eight years. She said men are subject to sex trafficking as well but are no as vocal due to the shame involved.
 
"Men are more vulnerable because they won't say anything," de Los Rios observed. "Culturally they are told not to share. It's humiliating, but it does happen. There are stories where they will pick them up at Home Depot, take them places, and threaten to kill them, threaten to drug them if they don't do sexual favors...It is appalling...I am here to speak for the men in the labor trafficking."
 
Phil Cenedella, Executive Director, National Association of Human Trafficking Victim Advocates (www.stopslavery2012.com ) opened his speech by channelling Howard Beale from the movie Network. "I'm mad as Hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" exclaimed Cenedella. Then he laid out three things that each person can do to help bring change. 
 
"I wake up each morning pissed off that Sara Kruzan is in jail," said Cenedella.
 
Sara Kruzan. You may have heard her story by now. At the age of 11, Kruzan met a 31-year old man named G.G. He began grooming her for a life of prostitution. At 13 she was forced onto the streets as a prostitute. After three years of abuse Kruzan killed G.G. She was 16 years old and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus four years. In 2011, Governor Schwarzenegger commuted her sentence to 25 years WITH the possibility of parole. Kruzan has been in prison for over 17 years now. (www.youtube.com/watch?v=qR7mno6p9iQ)
 
So the first thing on Cenedella's list is to Free Sara Kruzan Now! "Wednesdays are no longer Wednesday, they are Sara Kruzan Wednesday. For 51 weeks, people throughout California, New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, London, South Africa, Dubai, Ethiopia, Greece, and a bunch of other places, and some of my friends in Ocean Beach, 92107, we call Governor Jerry Brown's office, you hit number one to get to his office, you hit number six you get a live person. They've actually had to hire temps on Wednesdays to handle the calls," said Cenedella. 
 
"The second thing is to tell Google to stop selling slaves."
 
Many of these human trafficking operations utilize the online services of social media and other e-companies that have international reach and millions of users.
 
Cenedella explained. "We got 75 companies thoughout the world to protest Craigslist outside their headquarters. It's the first time people put two and two together. 'Oh my God, trafficking happens in America? Oh my God, an American company is involved and complicit? Oh my God, that can't be real!' But Craigslist is still a problem even though they've shut down their adult services." 
 
And BackPage is a problem, too. And even more-so, Google AdWords, which takes paid ads from human traffickers. The problem with AdWords is estimated at nine to ten times greater than BackPage.
 
These companies are conduits through which the sex traffic trade is connected to the clients. This is one of the connections that is being targeted to be severed.
 
And the third point is… "Ask Dianne Jacob and Marisa Ugarte to provide better shelter services and support to victims here in San Diego."
 
San Diego is in the top ten worst cities in America for shelter services and support. 
 
"I want to personally call out Dianne Jacob from the county government…" said Cenedella. "She hasn't done a damn thing for a victim in San Diego… and I also call out Marisa Ugarte… the head of the Bilateral Safety Corridor Commission, the guru of human trafficking in San Diego… I'm publicly saying, Marisa Ugarte, you are not doing your job, and you need to do a better job for the victims and survivors in San Diego." 
 
But not everyone shared Cenedella's opinion on Jacob and Ugarte. Charisma De Los Reyes of the Mariposa Center for Change (www.mariposacenterforchange.org) disagrees with Cenedella's assessment of Jacob and Ugarte. She said, "It really disappoints me, sir, that you are calling out people who are still trying to do the work. You know, Dianne Jacob, she is the only supervisor who has stood up, out of the Board of Supervisors of five that we have, to take on this issue. Marisa Ugarte, who has worked here for more than twenty years, she works with us on a network of nuns, 'cus she doesn't have funding. A network of nuns in Chula Vista and in Vista. Whenever she comes across adult of child victims – we cannot afford to tear other people down. We need to stand together. This fight is huge!"
 
De Los Reyes has seen firsthand the effects of human trafficking. "I have worked with over 50 girls who have walked these streets, and it is so difficult for them to come forward… 2,500 runaways a night will be out here on the streets. One in three of those kids will be approached within 48 hours of being on the street by a pimp of trafficker. That should be really concerning. That happens right down here… the girls I work with tell me how difficult it is here because nobody believes they were trafficked. Nobody believes that there are men who buy them. Sometimes they are eight months pregnant… We live in a city where the age of consent is 14… it is lower than Las Vegas. In Las Vegas it is 16 years old… we arrest children who are trafficked for the crime of prostitution. And where are they held and detained? In juvenile hall and treated like criminals – not acknowledged as victims."
 
In a push to change the laws that pertain to trafficking, De Los Reyes wants people to make a difference through political activism. "I want to encourage you to look up the CASE Act, Californians Against Sexual Exploitation (www.caseact.org). They have a huge push in November. This legislation will address services, because penalties will be higher as well as fines. It will start to take a look at how demand is really gone after. Because who is really arrested? It's our kids. They are the ones most visible. But if there was no demand, there would be no supply. And I'm not trying to oversimplify this very complicated issue."
 
At this point in the event, Sterling asked everyone to come closer to the lectern. To listen with open ears and the give all their attention to the next speaker.
 
The next few minutes affected me deeply. It is one of those stories that will stick with you. One that you can't unlearn.
 
I've decided to include her speech in its entirety, verbatim, because I believe it deserves to be heard as such. This young lady is a survivor of sex trafficking in San Diego. Angela is not her real name. 
 
"Hi I'm Angela, I was 14 years old when I was first trafficked on the street, in San Diego, in Spring Valley. I was brought in by a female. When I was first trafficked I was walking along the side of the road and I was set up. Someone asked me for directions and I got pulled into the car. Something was put over my face, and I was passed out and raped in the back of the car when I woke up. I was told if I said anything they would kill my mother. So I obeyed what they said. I was then brought to an apartment. And I was chained in a bathroom. I was chained to the wall. There were four or five other girls around me. We were all stripped naked. On the ground. There were dog bowls around that we would eat out of. They would beat us. Rape us. Repeatedly. Daily. Just for entertainment. Just for their own pleasure,” she revealed.
 
“We would do drugs. I was on PCP and I would drink alcohol and tried cocaine. My first experience,” Angela recalled. “There was an 8-year-old girl in the room with me at one time. And I remember her and I will still remember this until the day I die. An 8-year-old girl crying for her mommy and her daddy. She was 8-years-old. Imagine yourself, 8-years-old, stripped naked, on the ground, on the bathroom floor, chained, crying for your mommy. Don't know where you're at. Wanting your mommy. While you’re being raped and pimped out on the streets. And all you knew was going to school, and all you had to worry about before this was going to school before then. I did get away. So did that 8-year-old girl I helped still today. We both were at house, we were dropped off at a house, what we called them were 'tricks,' tricks and jobs. We were dropped off and we were going to a room. And to get dressed. A lot of them liked us to get dressed in school clothes, or whatever, for their fantasies would be. And there was a small window. We went out that window. She went her way with mine and I went back to my school. The school that I knew of. And I told them I was on Craigslist. And the police officers were on Craiglist and took down the site on which I was on. You were mentioning Craigslist. Yes, there are a lot of girls on Craigslist. They call is Exotic. If you go under Exotic you will find lots of girls on Craigslist. They'll give you lost of names. They are not the real names. They are not the real ages. I was 14-years-old and the fake I.D. that I has said I was 21. They dress you up and make you look all pretty and fancy and they cover up all the marks and bruises they make on you. And all of it's fake. And this needs to end now. People don't think it happens but it does.
 
She continued, “I could walk down this boulevard at night and point out each and every girl this is happening to. I could point it right out to you. And it's true I see girls walk into McDonalds. Hotel Circle. Hotel Circle there are a lot of girls who do in-calls, out-calls. I could out there too. It's really happening. And it's true. You just have to wake up and see. You can't survive it. If you see someone doing it just pull them aside and show them there's a different life to live, 'cus there is. You can help. Give them a number. There's something called Children of the Night (www.childrenofthenight.org). That's where I went. I called them 'cus there are no shelters here. I would have them call Children of the Night. It's in L.A. It's in Van Nuys. And they helped me. If they can't find a place for you there, there is another place you can go to. You got to make places available for people like us. This stuff is real. And its tormenting. I still wake up with nightmares at night. I have PTSD because of it, I have night terrors, I have a paranoia everywhere I go. The only reason I came here today is because I want people to know this stuff is real. This doesn't need to happen to anybody else. I don't want another girl to have to go through what I did 'cus I wanted to kill myself everyday wondering why this happened to me. There were times when I would cut myself – please just cut the right vein so I can die from this. But I didn't die and I know the reason why I didn't die was because I'm here today and can save someone else so it doesn't have to happen to them."
 
Do you still think that human trafficking is not a problem in San Diego? 
 
Mendonça wrapped up the day's events in this way: "I think the question is 'what's going to happen from here?' Raising awareness, having events such as this is so important – but it's also following through… there needs to be more shelter and support, there needs to me more awareness, there needs to be more education, there needs to be more outreach to possibly intervene, before it's too late, before they become victims… this is only the beginning."
 
Upcoming events:
The events will feature a screening of the documentary "Indoctrinated: The Grooming of Children into Prostitution (www.indoctrinated.org)
 
Human Trafficking in San Diego: How to Protect Your Children
Thursday, April 26 – 5:30pm to 7:30pm
Malcolm X Library
5148 Market Street
San Diego, Calif. 92114
More Information: (619) 462-7878
 
It's Global – It's Local: Human Trafficking
Saturday, April 28, 2012 – 8:30am to 4pm – $24
San Diego Office of Education
Rooms 401-402. 6401 Linda Vista Road
San Diego, Calif.  92111-7399
CONTACT: Anne (858) 245-1677
 
North County Human Rights Film Festival
Sunday, April 29 – 2pm to 7pm
UltraStar Cinemas
Mission Marketplace in Oceanside
Highway 76 & College
Suggested donation: $20, $15
More Information: Generate Hope (www.generatehope.org)