FBI agent arrests sex trafficking suspect
An FBI agent arrests a sex trafficking suspect. Image from FBI video

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month and a good opportunity to discuss this heartbreaking crime that can destroy lives, families and communities.

Human trafficking is defined by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as “the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.”

The violent criminals who commit human trafficking crimes are, among other things, trying to dehumanize their innocent victims. These victims are often children and frequently are runaways or missing youth. All-too-often, these vulnerable young people, whose average age is 15 years old, are away from home for the first time. They can become easy prey for dangerous pedophiles, pimps, recruiters and enforcers. Sadly, one in seven runaways are likely to become a sex trafficking victim.

Organized child trafficking rings can make up to $100,000 off each child per year. Sex trafficking is the second largest underground market — behind only drug trafficking — in the United States.

Closer to home, it’s scary to learn that San Diego County is the second largest region in the country for child-sex trafficking, behind only the state of Texas. Even more alarming is that there is at least one trafficker or recruiter operating on every middle school and high school campus in San Diego County.

While I know this scares you as much as it does me, let me share the positive steps being taken to prevent, stop and prosecute those that engage in human trafficking.

DHS and other federal, international, state and local law enforcement agencies are laser-focused on battling human trafficking. There are also many community groups and non-profits that play a key role in helping children and families swept up in a human trafficking situation.

One such amazing organization headquartered here in San Diego is Saved In America. In addition to keeping me and other officials updated with the most current statistics, numbers and information about human trafficking, SIA also performs several other valuable programs to combat human trafficking.

Sen. Brian Jones

SIA has assisted parents and law enforcement in the recovery of more than 235 children nationwide from traffickers since 2014. They do this through their volunteer network of former and current law enforcement officers, special ops personnel, private investigators and Navy SEALs, who share information and evidence with local, state and federal law enforcement authorities. SIA never charges a parent or guardian for helping find their child.

In Sacramento, legislative efforts continue each year to strengthen the hand of law enforcement when going after traffickers and protecting the innocent victims. In an often partisan and divided Legislature, many bills dealing with human-trafficking break through the partisan gridlock.

Just last year, four bills on human trafficking were approved by both the Senate and Assembly on unanimous votes:

  • Senate Bill 630 by Democratic Sen. Henry Stern of Canoga Park allows local governments to enact specific anti-human trafficking ordinances and regulations to help prevent trafficking
  • Assembly Bill 72 by Democrat and Republican members of the Assembly Budget Committee allocated $5 million for human trafficking emergency services
  • Assembly Bill 629 by Democrat Assemblymember Christy Smith of Santa Clarita authorizes victims of human trafficking to seek compensation from the California Victim Compensation Board for income lost due to human trafficking
  • Assembly Bill 880 by Republican Assemblymember Jay Obernolte of Big Bear Lake prohibits transportation network companies such as Uber or Lyft from hiring any driver previously convicted of human trafficking

I encourage all of you to get involved and contribute resources you have available to battle human trafficking.  You can also voice your support for new ordinances, regulations and laws aimed at human trafficking.

Together, we can end this heinous crime.

State Sen. Brian Jones lives in Santee and represents the residents of the 38th Senate District in east and north San Diego County.