Could you spot a victim of human trafficking?

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As your District Attorney, I’m committed to increasing communication and accessibility between the DA’s Office and you, the community. One way I hope to do that is through this monthly column, where I will provide information and tips on how you can stay safe. 

As your District Attorney, I’m committed to increasing communication and accessibility between the DA’s Office and you, the community. One way I hope to do that is through this monthly column, where I will provide information and tips on how you can stay safe. 

By now you’ve probably heard about the crime of human trafficking, but you may still think it’s a problem that doesn’t impact you. People often let the details about this modern-day slavery go in one ear and out the other because they don’t think it affects them. But, human trafficking is an $810 million criminal industry in San Diego County – so that means it affects all of us. I’m passionate about raising awareness, holding traffickers accountable, and supporting the victims of this insidious crime. Since January is Human Trafficking Awareness month, I’d like to take the opportunity to give you information on what to look for and how to protect yourself and your family.

When I do training around the county about human trafficking, people often ask what the typical victim is like. They are surprised when I say it’s the girl next door, not a foreigner smuggled into the country. Although victims are definitely from all over the world, in San Diego, 80 percent of the victims are from the U.S. Typically, they are teens. Even though a higher percentage of victims have experienced abuse and neglect at home, I’ve seen many victims who come from caring families and who get deceived and trapped into human trafficking. Much of the grooming begins on social media. The bottom line is, no family is immune and everyone needs to know the facts.

The Human Trafficking Task Force works to rescue the girls (and boys) who end up being sold for sex and trafficked across our county. The most common form of sex trafficking includes entrapping children in prostitution for gangs. Recruitment happens right under our noses in schools and online. We need the public’s help to recognize the signs that someone is being trafficked. Hotel workers, airline employees, parents, teachers and the general public are all in a position to notice that something’s not right and alert law enforcement.

So, would you recognize the warning signs that someone may be a victim?

Here’s what to watch out for:

Withdrawal from normal activities

Frequent truancy especially on Fridays or Mondays

Random hotel keycards in purse or belongings

More than one cell phone (a trafficker often gives a cell phone to control the victim under the guise they are giving them freedom from a controlling parent).

Tattoos that appear to establish ownership, branding or dollar signs (gangs are notorious for branding their victims).

If the person has no suitcase or normal belongings when checking into a hotel with an adult. 

If the minor appears disheveled and under control by someone else

Gone are the days when dangerous predators were easily identifiable. It used to be the creepy guy driving around in a van luring children with candy or animals; but today the stranger posing the biggest threat is the one invited into your teen’s bedroom everyday through social media. Mobile apps have erased neighborhood boundaries and socio economic conditions that used to protect certain areas from crime.

The most common scenario for trapping girls in the sex trade is a trafficker posing as an older boyfriend. In the beginning, Romeo-like tactics are used to lure the victim into what is portrayed as a romantic relationship. The “boyfriend,” who is really a pimp, doles out compliments, gifts and attention that the teen craves. Soon he asks her to sell her body for sex, “just this one time.” It is never one time. But, now that she’s done it, the victim can be demeaned and shamed into continuing prostitution. The trafficker brainwashes her into believing he is the only person who will accept her after what she has done.

With 2,500 runaway minors in San Diego at any one time, traffickers have a target-rich environment to prey on. Fighting the demand that drives profit and fuels trafficking is imperative. That’s why we’re working on establishing greater penalties for those who buy sex. San Diego’s sun, sea and surf cannot cure this epidemic. The cure depends on our tenacity, courage and our work with the community.

If you suspect someone is a victim of human trafficking call the human trafficking hotline at 888-37-37-888, or text “BeFree.”

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