Please note that this blog post addresses sensitive issues that some readers may find disturbing.
In January of this year, 38 people were arrested in San Diego County as part of a statewide, two-day, anti-human trafficking operation called “Operation Reclaim and Rebuild.” During the sweep, a 16-year-old girl from San Diego was rescued. Far from being an isolated incident, this girl was one of a staggering 8,000 to 11,000 girls and women who fall victim to sex trafficking every year in San Diego. The estimates in Imperial County are just as alarming. At the Second Annual Human Trafficking and Commercial Exploitation of Children Summit in El Centro this past May, Operation Underground Railroad founder Tim Ballard said that thousands of trafficking victims, “mostly children,” are routinely trafficked through the county.
The Motivation and the Victims
Who are the people being trafficked and what is driving this activity? Not surprisingly, money is the main driver of human trafficking. According to a recent study conducted by Point Loma Nazarene and the University of San Diego, human trafficking is San Diego County’s second largest illegal economy behind drug trafficking. And who are the people being trafficked? Victims of human trafficking are typically the most vulnerable members of society, including homeless youth. A recent report estimates that almost 20% of homeless youth are victims of human trafficking – 15 percent trafficked for sex, 7.4 percent trafficked for labor, and 3 percent trafficked for both. LGBTQ individuals, who made up 19.2 percent of the homeless youth interviewed, were disproportionately more likely to be victims of sex trafficking, with 26.9 percent reporting that they had been trafficked for sex, accounting for 33.8 percent of all sex trafficking victims in the two studies.
The studies also found that 32.1 percent of all respondents who had been trafficked for sex, engaged in “survival sex,” or engaged in the sex trade in some way — including 40.5 percent of female respondents, 25.3 percent of male respondents, and 56 percent of transgender youth respondents.
“We found that youth were seeking what we all seek — shelter, work, security — and that the trafficker preyed on those very needs,” said Laura T. Murphy of the Modern Slavery Research Project. “When we asked youth what they needed to avoid or escape these situations of forced labor and radical exploitation, they often pointed to the very resources that homeless shelters can and do provide them. What we need is more resources to support those programs and additional training that help service providers identify and assist those who are most at risk.”
Youth Homelessness is on the Rise
Given that homeless youth are especially susceptible to becoming human trafficking victims, it is of great concern that the number of homeless youth in San Diego County is on the rise. Though the uptick is partly a result of better reporting, the 39% increase in homeless youth in the county should still sound alarm bells about the possible increase in human trafficking in the region. And with the 2017 Point-in-Time Count and Survey indicating that the homeless population in Imperial County is twice the California average, the population of homeless youth susceptible to human trafficking in the region is sure to be larger than average as well.
What’s Being Done
If there is a silver lining at all concerning the human trafficking of homeless youth, it’s that the severity of the problem is out in the open and agencies across San Diego and Imperial Counties are working tirelessly to help those who are affected. In El Centro, the Human Trafficking and Commercial Exploitation of Children Summit is now an annual event where organizations and individuals discuss what is working and what still needs to be done to end human trafficking in the region. In San Diego County, a coalition of seven different non-profit organizations received a portion of a $1 Million grant from the California Office of Emergency Services last year to tackle the problem of human trafficking. The San Diego coalition includes AHF grantee North County Lifeline along with Survivor Leader Network of San Diego, San Diego Youth Services, La Maestra Community Health Centers, GenerateHope, Center for Community Solutions, and Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition. The groups are using the money to develop measureable practices and approaches and to provide clinical training to recognize the red flags when human trafficking may be taking place. The San Diego coalition will use additional funds to provide legal and housing services for trafficking victims.
Current and Former AHF Grantees Working with Homeless Populations and/or At-Risk Youth
Our own grantees do much work related to reducing homelessness and providing support structures to make youth less susceptible to human trafficking.
San Diego County
HomeStart – Assuring the safety and resiliency of children by strengthening families and their communities
Interfaith Community Services – Providing sobering, detox, long term recovery, and recuperative care programs to low-income and homeless individuals to overcome severe addiction
Just In Time For Foster Youth – Helping foster youth become capable, confident and connected and to break the cycle of foster care and fill in the gaps for youth who don’t have family support.
Monarch School Project – Educating students impacted by homelessness and to help them develop hope for a future with the necessary skills and experiences for personal success.
North County Lifeline – Building self-reliance among youth, individuals, and families through problem solving, skill building, and accessible community-based services.
San Diego Youth Services – Helping at-risk youth and their families become self-sufficient and reach their highest potential.
Solutions for Change – Providing every child in the greater San Diego region with a safe, loving home.
Voices for Children – Providing every child in the foster care system with a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) who needs one and to transform the lives of children who have been abused.
Court Appointed Special Advocate Imperial County (CASA) – Providing trained community volunteers to work with children who have been abused or neglected in court. These individuals follow each child’s case through the court system to help them navigate through foster care.
Interested in knowing more about our grantees working with homeless youth? Leave us a comment on Facebook or send us a tweet @AllianceHF to continue the conversation. We’d love to hear your thoughts, answer your questions, or provide resources as needed.
– Nancy Sasaki, Executive Director
Alliance Healthcare Foundation