East County community awareness and outreach sought to combat human trafficking

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The exploitation is incomprehensible for normally sympathetic people. Youth closing out what ought to be pre-adolescence years of innocence are targeted for abuse as sex workers. The numbers are alarming too. Between 250,000 to 300,000 youngsters are at risk, with young prostitutes commonly first recruited when they are 12 to 14 years old. Roughly 100,000 enter the sexual exploitation trades annually. Runaway youth are especially at risk, propositioned to swap sexual acts for money or shelter within 48 hours of arrival on the streets.

The exploitation is incomprehensible for normally sympathetic people. Youth closing out what ought to be pre-adolescence years of innocence are targeted for abuse as sex workers. The numbers are alarming too. Between 250,000 to 300,000 youngsters are at risk, with young prostitutes commonly first recruited when they are 12 to 14 years old. Roughly 100,000 enter the sexual exploitation trades annually. Runaway youth are especially at risk, propositioned to swap sexual acts for money or shelter within 48 hours of arrival on the streets.

The news for East County residents is equally troubling. The San Diego area ranks between eighth and 13th worst in the nation each year, with Spring Valley and Lemon Grove as local communities with the highest prevalence of recruitment of youth.

The Lemon Grove Historical Society recognized this matter of current events as history-in-the-making that needs to be rewritten within East County by involved members of the communities where these targeted youth live.

In conjunction with Soroptimist International of Lemon Grove and the Lemon Grove Academy for Sciences and Humanities, on Monday, May 8, the historical society presented a screening of the video “Indoctrinated: The Grooming of Our Children into Prostitution.” Jim Ellis of Legacy Productions produced the half-hour film in collaboration with the San Diego Office of Education and the ACTION Network.

Rick Oser, principal of the Lemon Grove Academy, introduced the program. “I am proud to be part of a community that cares,” Oser stated. Local elected officials, school district employees, teachers, counselors and interested members of the community, including middle-school students, attended the program. 

 Ellis noted that his film had premiered five years earlier but further that this crisis of criminal activity still abounds. His is the first documentary addressing both parents and teens about this difficult subject. “This is all about community and awareness,” Ellis said. Gangs have become involved in the business of child sex trafficking. Unlike one-time-and-done drug or illicit weapons deals, a twelve-year-old child prostitute can be “sold” for sex over and over and over again for years.

According to the documentary, culture and entertainment messages have caused today’s youth to be more susceptible than earlier generations of children to be caught up in “the life,” as the cycle of prostitution, violence and drug use is known. For instance, music and movies have mainstreamed “hooking” and “pimping,” treating the degradation and dehumanization of other humans for paid sexual contact as enticingly glamorous and appealing.

A panel of experts from law enforcement, social services and ministries spoke after the screening to answer questions from the audience and expand on topics addressed in the film. A recurring theme that was reiterated throughout the program was that awareness in schools, families and the surrounding community is the first essential step in combating this organized criminal human trafficking.

The experts affirmed that “anybody” could be a prostitute or a pimp. Youngsters exploited this way can come from any walk of life. Despite the frequent lure of love, security and extravagant gifts to entice girls into the sex worker trade, the pimps view the girls as objects to make money.

What are signs to look for that may suggest a teen is a victim of human trafficking, according to the experts? Children who are loners and become increasingly secretive, and also youth who suddenly possess expensive items, such as an unexplained second cell phone are signs that they might be involved. Tattoos are treated within “the life” like branding livestock and are indicators of prostitution.

Help is readily available. The experts said that prostitution seen as a crime for youth has been replaced by a victim-centered approach. Moreover, sex trafficking of youth is considered child abuse, with mandatory reporting required for counselors and other professionals who suspect a particular child is being so exploited.

Girls make up the preponderance of victims, although boys can fall prey to victimizers too. The experts noted that transgender females are particularly vulnerable to exploitation.

More information and aid for trafficking victims can be obtained by calling the National Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 373-7888. For anyone in immediate danger, the first call should be to 911.

The Lemon Grove Academy is located at 7866 Lincoln Street.

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