By Stephanie Brown
Human trafficking is a modern form of the oldest and most barbaric type of exploitation. It has no place in our world. We need to bring attention and awareness to this atrocious crime against humanity and put an end to human trafficking.
An estimated 25 million people worldwide are currently victims of human trafficking, both for sex and labor. Sex trafficking in San Diego alone is an $810 million industry, with an estimated 3,000 to 8,000 victims per year.
Perhaps even more staggering, the average entry age for San Diego’s sex trafficking victim is 16 years old. Often these youth have a history of maltreatment, particularly sexual abuse. Many have endured homelessness, family instability, foster care, emotional distress, and mental health issues. Substance abuse is also a primary factor for these young people.
This is a human tragedy that has festered under our radar for far too long.
While some risk factors make young people more vulnerable to trafficking, there is no single profile of a trafficking victim and no community is immune. According to Carrie Hessler-Radelet, president and CEO of San Diego’s Project Concern International, recruitment of children into sex trafficking happens everywhere, including malls, trolley stops, parks, churches and even schools. In a recent study by Point Loma Nazarene University and the University of San Diego, all participating San Diego County high schools confirmed recruitment taking place on their campuses.
Traffickers often leverage family members or friends of intended victims, as well as social media and public internet platforms to facilitate recruitment. At least 75 percent of transactions for illegal sex are made online and during working hours. According to the White House, “human traffickers’ prey on their victims by promising a life of hope and greater opportunity, while delivering only enslavement. Instead of delivering people to better lives, traffickers profit from the labor and toil of their victims, who they force through violence and intimidation.”
San Diego organizations and institutions at the forefront of combating human trafficking include Project Concern, Point Loma Nazarene’s Center for Justice and Reconciliation, USD and UC San Diego. Last November, Project Concern honored local advocate and daughter of Papa Doug Manchester, Molly Eldredge, with the first Anne Otterson Community Connector Award. “Molly has been a wonderful community resource in educating San Diegans about PCI’s anti-trafficking work in our community,” said Hessler-Radelet in making the award.
Because of Molly’s efforts, these atrocities and their alarming proximity to our children, families, and loved ones in our region have caught the attention of Manchester Financial Group, which became presenting title sponsor of the 28th annual Hands Across Border Gala, and also joined the Project Concern business alliance to combat human trafficking. Manchester Financial Group is proud to support Project concern and the important work the organization is doing locally in San Diego and around the world to help vulnerable people access the tools and resources they need to end sex trafficking.
In addition to Project Concerns’ exceptional work, San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan stands out for her support of The Ugly Truth. This public awareness campaign that included billboards and other messaging has been instrumental in overcoming common myths of prostitution. Also influential is new school curriculum including an interactive theatrical piece, kNOw MORE by Point Loma Nazarene, that provides age-appropriate curricula targeted at grades 5, 7, 9 and 11, with a focus on human trafficking prevention education and after-school mentoring programs for at-risk youth.
We must do everything in our power to protect our youth. Education and information are critical. We need to make this tragedy part of our moral and ethical consciousness. Manchester Financial Group encourages other businesses to join the Project Concern business alliance and community members to get involved to learn how to be part of the solution.
Stephanie Brown is vice president of marketing and public relations for the Manchester Financial Group in San Diego.