By Miriam Raftery
January 23, 2019 (San Diego) — San Diego ranks among the 13 worst regions in the nation for human trafficking, according to the FBI. The underground sex economy locally is worth an estimated $810 million a year. To combat this crisis and help protect vulnerable young people, District Attorney Summer Stephan has announced three new programs to bring human trafficking education, prevention and awareness training to kids and teens in all public schools countywide.
In a statement issued by the D.A.’s office, Stephan says, “Combatting human trafficking and protecting children from falling victim to this terrible form of modern-day slavery is one of my top public safety priorities.” She adds, “Human trafficking is the second largest criminal industry in the world in which traffickers profit by preying on unsuspecting children, luring them right out of their schools and homes with deception and lies.”
Victims can be children or adults, though minors are particularly vulnerable. The victims include males and females of any ethnicity, race, or socioeconomic background.
A study in 2016 by the University of San Diego and Point Loma Nazarene University found that 90 percent of all high schools studied in San Diego County reported cases of human trafficking involving students. In addition to recruiting victims on school campuses, traffickers also use social media and other means.
A new state law passed in 2017 requires schools to educate students on trafficking, but so far only some are doing so, using only a free curriculum provided by the County Office of Education. A list of those districts on the D.A.’s website does not include any in East County, even though areas such as Spring Valley and Lemon Grove are hotbeds of human trafficking.
Three new programs will be available through efforts of the San Diego Trafficking Prevention Collective: PROTECT, Project ROOTS, and kNOw MORE. Some of the programs include elementary and middle school students, others are designed for high school classes.
PROTECT will help teachers identify vulnerable students of all ages and connect them to resources, also educating students to the dangers and signs of trafficking.
ROOTS is an after-school program addressing root causes of gender-based violence, exploitation and unhealthy relationships, working to build empathy, equality and empowerment.
kNOw More is for middle and high school students, providing a drama-based interactive training for students and families including role-play and discussion to learn how to recognize red flags and what actions to take to prevent trafficking.
The programs were funded by a grant through the UBS Optimus Foundation.
San Diego County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Gothold applauds the new programs. “By taking a proactive approach to address the commercial sexual exploitation of children, we are more likely to reduce the incidents of human trafficking in our schools,” he says.