Video With Supervisor Desmond & District Attorney Summer Stephen
TR Robertson -Taking part in a Zoom presentation last Monday, the issues, situations, prevention and education about the Human Trafficking in San Diego County was presented in partnership with District 5 Supervisor Jim Desmond and San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephen. The hour-long presentation also featured presentations by Commander Geanie Franco from the San Diego Human Trafficking Task Force, Keelin Washington from Generate Hope and MCed by Supervisor Desmond’s Communication Director Miles Himmel.
Supervisor Jim Desmond began the presentation and spoke throughout the evening, beginning with pointing out a Pt. Loma Nazarene study that was completed several years ago that said it is estimated there are 8,000 victims a year in San Diego County involved in or victims of sexual exploitation. He pointed out that age-appropriate education is needed in schools to help stem the tide of human trafficking by making kids aware of what to look out for when dealing with these issues. He encouraged districts to include Evidence Based Training about Human Trafficking in the school curriculum. Desmond also said it is imperative that the California State Legislators increase their push to enhance Human Trafficking Education in schools. He mentioned more places like One Safe Place are needed to help individuals that have experienced violence and abuse in any form.
Next in the presentation was San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephen. She began by telling the audience that San Diego is one of the top thirteen places in the United States for Human Trafficking. Stephen said Human Trafficking is the 2nd largest criminal industry financially in the U.S., slightly behind the drug trafficking trade. One of the main reasons for the rise in Human Trafficking of minor’s centers around the rise in using social media by sex traffickers It was pointed out how successful these individuals have become in utilizing social media to lure minors into the sex industry. She indicated that their studies indicate that 90% of all San Diego County High Schools have had incidences of the juvenile justice system dealing with a sex trafficking incident. Stephens stated over and over the need for parents to talk to their children about how dangerous this problem is, what to look out for and how to correctly use their social media contacts. This included reminders for parents to tell their children to not share any personal information and to not share any nudity photos over their phones or computers. Talking about the safety of correct use of the internet was paramount. The District Attorney’s Office has dedicated a Human Trafficking Division to deal with these cases with fourteen individuals from a variety of backgrounds assisting in educating, arresting, and prosecuting to try and stem the tide of this crime. She said preventing anyone from falling victim to this crime is as important as arresting those involved. Stephens stressed education of parents and their children as a key step in dealing with the problem. Understanding that human traffickers will use deception, entrapment, chemical addiction, lies and anything else you can imagine to victimize young people and adults.
Speaking next was Commander Geanie Franco from the Human Trafficking Task Force. She said their goal is to identify and recover victims and to hold traffickers accountable. Their 14-member Task Force is on the job 24/7. Franco showed their 2023 stats to date that included 121 arrests with 47 adults and 27 juveniles recovered. Of the 47 arrests, this included 78 sex buyers. She said they are seeing victims as young as 13 involved in the sex trade and there has been an increase in prostitution, primarily due to the change in the arrest laws, which will change beginning January 2024 with the passage of State Senator Groves Senate Bill 14 which would make the trafficking of minors a serious felony with longer prison terms. (Article from Senator Groves Office attached at the bottom of this article). Franco said it is important for parents to look for changes in their children like new clothing or jewelry appearing, finding a second cell phone in rooms, finding hotel keys, seeing multiple social media accounts, increase use of chat rooms, dropping grades, truancy, depression, alcohol use, drug use, changes in friends and groups, running away and many other indicators are signs something could be happening to your child “right under the parents nose”. There are also Risk Factors that can cause a child to be caught up in the sex industry which parents need to be aware of. These include running away, financial problems at home, poor self-esteem, lack of family support, mental health challenges, prior trauma, abuse in the home and minors who are undocumented or have unstable immigration status. She reminded parents it is their job to ensure the safety of their children. The San Diego Office took part in a nation-wide Operation Cross Country from July 19-30 and were able to rescue 15 sex trafficking victims. The National Hotline for anyone to report or seek help with sex trafficking issues is 1-888-373-7888.
The next presenter was Keelin Washington from Generate Hope and a former victim of sex trafficking. Generate Hope assists sex trafficking victims and offers a safe house. The attached video has Keelin’s story and is worth parents sitting with their children and showing their sons and daughters how easy it is for a sex trafficker to manipulate and control minors. Her story about how she became involved, the tactics used and the struggles she had are important to hear to understand that the stereotypical “snatch and grab” of children is not necessarily the way young people get involved in the sex industry. Her story began at age 14 with what she referred to as a “grooming process” the trafficker used. She said once an individual becomes involved then the trafficker will use psychological tactics, bondage, physical abuse and a multitude of other ways to keep the individual trapped. She also said it is important for parents to have meaningful conversations with their kids. Keelin summed up by saying people “must understand it is not a life they choose; it is rape for payment” that entraps them.
Miles Himmel led a question-and-answer session with the panel. Summer Stephen said more legislation is needed to not hand-tie the hands of the police when dealing with sex trafficking issues. Legislation like re-criminalizing loitering for prostitution is essential. She reminded those watching that the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children also is a good reference for parents. Jim Desmond indicated that the San Diego Harbor Foundation, working to improve public safety, offers training for hotel staff on what to look for at the hotels with their guest illegally using the hotel room for sexual encounters with minors and adults caught in the sex trafficking business. On the chat room www.childrenoftheimmaculateheart.org was indicated as a safe house for trafficking victims in San Diego.
Taking some time to watch the entire presentation is recommended to understand the gravity and seriousness of this despicable crime. Go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwOJa6QW8Xk to watch the entire or part of the Human Trafficking Panel Discussion.
Gov. Newsom Signs Sen. Grove’s Bill to Increase Penalties for the Sex Trafficking of Children
SACRAMENTO, CA – Sen. Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) announced her bill, Senate Bill 14, was signed into law by Governor Newsom today. SB 14 would include sex trafficking of minors in the list of crimes that are defined as serious felonies, making the crime a strike under California’s Three Strikes law. It has been more than a decade since the California Legislature passed a bill to expand the state’s Three Strikes law.
“The signing of Senate Bill 14 is a huge victory for California’s children and the survivors of sex trafficking who have long fought for justice,” said Senator Shannon Grove. “With the passage of this bill, we are sending a clear message to child traffickers— we intend to put you out of business and behind bars where you belong.
“I am grateful for the incredible support from the human trafficking survivors who have bravely shared their story with the hope of making this change, the 64 legislative co-authors of SB 14, and the Governor for signing this important bill. Most of all, I want to thank the thousands of Californians who called or visited legislative offices, signed petitions, and spoke out on social media. We are here today because of the overwhelming public outrage that propelled this bill through the legislature and ultimately helped protect our children from predators.”