San Diego Fights Back Against Sex Trafficking

On December 20, 2014, the “Los Angeles Times” published an article entitled “San Diego region has become hub of gang-controlled prostitution rings.” By way of example, it covered a recent human trafficking enforcement operation that occurred in Eastern San Diego County. The operation resulted in the indictment of twenty-two suspected gang members and their associates for running a multi-state prostitution ring. Similar indictments in recent years have targeted gangs in the city of Oceanside and the North Park neighborhood of San Diego.

San Diego’s gang activities related to sex trafficking are no different than those employed by other gangs across the nation. In the last several years, crimes related to human trafficking have expanded because it, and its off-shoots, are lucrative businesses. Gangsters prey on society’s most vulnerable children, those who live in foster homes and impoverished neighborhoods.

After working with communities across the United States on this topic, I feel it’s imperative to assert that San Diego is NOT a unique hub of gang-controlled prostitution as asserted in the Times article. A more accurate description is that San Diego has a coalition of courageous leaders and policy makers who aggressively protect our communities. They work tirelessly to prevent human trafficking from occurring and prioritize enforcement that recovers victims and prosecutes suspects. In fact, San Diego is one of the first communities to respond to human trafficking and set a high standard for collaboratively combating both labor and sex trafficking.

In 2011, Diane Jacobs and the San Diego County Board of Supervisors teamed with District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and Sheriff Bill Gore to form the “San Diego Regional Human Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Advisory Council.” Its goal is to implement a holistic, county-wide approach that integrates prevention, protection and prosecution partnerships.

In the past, crimes of this nature were the purview of police and prosecutors alone.  With today’s broader perspective, expertise and collaboration openly occur among professionals in education, law enforcement, child welfare, faith-based programs, victim service providers, university researchers and many other dedicated community members.

The San Diego Police Department’s Vice Unit, the FBI’s Innocence Lost Task Force and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department are some of the most aggressive and highly trained law enforcement professionals in this area of criminal activity. In 2003, District Attorney Dumanis formed the Sex Crimes and Human Trafficking Division with specialized prosecutors, investigators and victim advocates. The local United States Attorney’s Office has seen a 600 percent increase in human trafficking cases in the last five years.  In other words, these timely enforcement actions and strategies brought awareness to impacted communities sooner than elsewhere.  While local media are important partners in this fight, it’s critical that San Diego is not mis-characterized. San Diego is uniquely positioned to serve as a national example by holistically addressing trafficking crimes with aggregate expertise that effectively combats domestic human trafficking.  The strategies are being noticed by the federal government and heralded as a best-practice approach for replication nationwide.

The fact that the San Diego community recognized the scourge of domestic human trafficking and quickly took action in the form of training, awareness presentations, policy changes and three major law enforcement operations, should not create the impression that human trafficking gangs are any more prolific here.  Being known as a hub of sex trafficking is a distinction this community does not deserve. San Diego should be seen as a community with talented leaders who care enough about our children to forge strategies that break down bureaucratic barriers to arrest and prosecute criminals and save our children.

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