By Kimetha Hill
Human trafficking is a $32 billion per year industry, rivaling drug trafficking and illegal arms sales. Among the types of human trafficking, sex trafficking is decimating the lives of young girls and women across the nation. The FBI has identified California as one of the nation’s top four states for trafficked persons. And the number of cases prosecuted under state sex trafficking statutes has more than tripled in the past four years in San Diego County. However local law enforcement, city and county officials, and administration have teamed up to combat the local sex slave trade. Last Thursday morning, Interim Mayor Todd Gloria and City and County law enforcement leaders announced the launch of a campaign against human trafficking at the San Diego Police Department headquarters downtown. Senate Bill 1193 requires certain business owners to participate in anti-trafficking efforts and the City of San Diego’s Human Relations Commission is working to ensure local compliance.
Interim mayor of San Diego, Todd Gloria was joined by City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, Assistant Police Chief Cesar Solis, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and a sex trafficking survivor and advocate, Autumn Burris on Thursday morning. There was also a host of community leaders and supporters including the Human Relations Committee – the committee that spearheaded this initiative.
Human trafficking is a covert operation, and thus extremely hard to detect. Victims are forced to engage in activities such as commercial sex, housework, farm work, construction or factory work, retail or restaurant work where they cannot leave the situation. Young girls and women make up 55 percent of forced labor victims, and 98 percent of sex trafficking victims.
Senate Bill 1193 addresses the outside component of sex trafficking in that local businesses will be forced to comply with law enforcement. Before this, business owners were essentially not liable for any sex trafficking activity; they were not forced to take on any responsibility. But the trend has taken a sharp turn upwards, and officials recognize more forceful action must be taken.
Specifically, the bill requires businesses to post a flier with relevant phone numbers for victims of human trafficking or someone who knows a victim of human trafficking can contact. Affected businesses include bars, adult/sexually oriented businesses, massage and body work establishments, airports, inner city passenger rail and light rail stations, bus stations, truck stops, roadside rest areas, hospital emergency rooms, urgent care centers, foreign labor contractors, and job recruitment centers. Studies have shown that in other states where posting requirements have been enacted, there have been increases in the number of reported trafficking situations and victims who have been rescued.
“A letter is being mailed out to alert all businesses into the change in law and the need for them to participate in this anti-trafficking effort. Enclosed in the letter is a smaller version of the poster on display at this news conference. This poster must be placed in a visible area for all employees, and where customers can see it when entering the business,” said Mayor Gloria.
District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis offered support and discussed how the DA’s office has been heavily involved in cracking down on such cases. “The number of cases that our office has prosecuted under sex trafficking has more than tripled over the past four years. It’s clear, that this is on the rise,” she said. “Law enforcement recognized these trends a long time ago, we’ve been working on it, and the public is now becoming aware of it. And this is part of that effort.”
Dumanis decreed that the posters serve as another weapon to fight human trafficking. “They’re a potential lifeline as people don’t know where to turn.”
District Attorney Dumanis also referenced the growing trend of gang involvement, citing the lure of a profit as reason for their involvement. “We’ve even seen rival gangs, cooperating to make money to replace their drug dealing efforts,” she said. Assistant Police Chief Cesar Solis elaborated on these findings. “Earlier this month, the San Diego police department, in partnership with the FBI and the US Attorney’s office and other law enforcement agencies served warrants on 24 gang members and associates that were involved in sex trafficking of underage girls and women,” he said. “Twenty-two of these suspects have been arrested and are in federal custody. This operation began one year ago with the arrest of one person for pimping and quickly escalated to a large scale.”
Finally, Autumn Burris provided a face to the voiceless and victimized through sex trafficking. A survivor and current advocate against sex trafficking, Burris gave a pointed testimony and urged the community to become more involved. “I stand here for all the women who can’t stand here. When I got out over 15 years ago, there weren’t the mechanisms set in place, such as these posters. And it was hard, and there was stigma attached to being sexually exploited. What I ask for you, individually and collectively is to erase that stigma. Understand that nobody is involved in prostitution, stripping, sex trafficking, labor trafficking because they have any other viable option. Prostitution itself, is a violation of human rights.”
The public will begin seeing the posters displayed in local businesses immediately. Sex trafficking is nothing more than modern day slavery. And San Diego is working hard to eliminate this crime.