County officials Monday launched a new public outreach effort aimed at debunking myths and shining a light on the realities of sexual exploitation and human trafficking in San Diego County.
According to officials, “The Ugly Truth” campaign grew out of a simple belief: That until the public understands the truth about the conditions that drive women and girls into the sex trade, and the violence prostituted persons are likely to encounter while working in it, there won’t be a community consensus or public will that can lead to change.
The FBI has classified San Diego as a “High Intensity Child Prostitution Area” on a list of top 13 cities for prostituting children.
“Until our community sees the damage done to women, girls and boys being forced to work in prostitution, they will lack the will to take on this threat to our children and end demand,” said Chief Deputy District Attorney Summer Stephan, who is also chair of the county’s Human Trafficking Advisory Council. “Media can play a critical role in creating this awareness, particularly in an era where TV, print, film and online representations of prostitution are often so glamorizing.”
According to a recent study by the University of San Diego and Point Loma Nazarene University, the average age for entry into sex trafficking is 16 years old.
Homeless and foster youth are at the greatest risk for recruitment and about 85 percent of sex trafficking is controlled by gangs, according to the study.
The study also confirmed that sex trafficking is the second largest criminal industry in San Diego County.
The scale of the illicit sex economy is $810 million a year with each trafficker controlling about four victims and making an average of $670,625 per year, according to the study.
Tiffany, who was trafficked by her sister and a friend when she was 13, said she didn’t understand that she was a victim of human trafficking.
“In my mind, I was a prostitute,” said Tiffany, now a college graduate. “This campaign is exactly what we need.”
The three-month “Ugly Truth” campaign — which will be featured on billboards, radio spots, bus shelters and trolley posters — cost less than $120,000 and was funded by a grant through the county’s Health and Human Services Agency, officials said.
—City News Service