By Mara W. Elliott
Sex trafficking may seem like something that could never happen in our own close-knit community, but don’t be mistaken: It is happening right here, right now. At $800 million annually, sex trafficking is second only to drug trafficking among underground economies in San Diego County.
Sex trafficking occurs when force, fear, fraud, or coercion are used to compel a commercial sex act, or anytime a minor is involved in a commercial sex act.
The average sex trafficking victim in San Diego County is only 16 years old. Remember, that’s the average: many of its victims are much younger than 16.
Most sex trafficking victims live as virtual prisoners along with other trafficking victims, or with an abusive and controlling partner. They didn’t enter this nightmare with open eyes. More likely, they were lured into the life with promises of love, protection, adventure, or opportunity.
Here’s one scenario that’s all too common:
Your high school-age daughter starts coming home with new clothes and expensive gifts, and won’t tell you where they came from. Over time you notice her withdraw, and one night she doesn’t come home. When your texts go unanswered and your calls go straight to voicemail, you call the police to report her missing.
Days later, the police show up at your front door and say your daughter has been brought in as a victim of sex trafficking. She was preyed upon by a man who made her believe he loved her and was her boyfriend. Once he earned her trust, he betrayed her in the worst way possible. He forced her into a life of sexual exploitation and crime.
Victims of sex trafficking often feel they have nowhere to turn.
That’s why my office is committed to ensuring that anyone who has had to endure the trauma of sex trafficking has a safe place to seek refuge and get help. At the San Diego Family Justice Center, a division of the San Diego City Attorney’s Office, we are dedicated to transitioning victims into survivors.
Starting in January 2019, Human Trafficking Awareness Month, the San Diego Family Justice Center (SDFJC) is extending the same high caliber of services it provides to domestic violence victims to victims of sex trafficking.
In offering these new services, we are responding to a need. We discovered that many of our clients are also sex trafficking victims. We are bringing on new, specialized community partners to make sure that any victim who walks through our doors gets the specific kind of support they need.
Our services include forensic examinations, counseling, workforce readiness support, legal advice, and other assistance to help victims break free from a life of violence and become thriving, self-sufficient survivors.
Our team includes mental health providers, forensic nurses, prosecutors, legal and military advocates, immigration and family law attorneys, detectives, restraining order clinic attorneys, and other social service providers.
Each case is unique, and each client has different needs. Despite these challenges, the SDFJC’s interdisciplinary design and holistic approach gives us the right tools to serve these vulnerable populations well.
There’s no judgment at the SDFJC. We offer services free of charge, no questions asked, to anyone in need. We provide a safe place for victims and their families to reclaim their lives, seek justice, and begin healing.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence or sexual exploitation, help is available. You are safe at the Family Justice Center.
San Diego Family Justice Center
1122 Broadway, 2nd Floor
San Diego, CA 92101
Toll free: 866-933-HOPE (4673)
—Mara W. Elliott was elected City Attorney of San Diego in 2016 after serving as the chief deputy attorney for the Office’s Public Services Section and legal adviser to the city’s Independent Audit Committee and Environment Committee. Mara and the lawyers in her section held polluters accountable, reformed city contracting, cut administrative red tape, and strengthened the city’s Living Wage and Non-Discrimination in Contracting ordinances.