San Diego People: Human trafficking in San Diego County

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — San Diego is known as "America’s Finest City" but there is a dark side.  This week on San Diego People, we go in-depth on how the County is one of the biggest spots for human trafficking in the nation and what it is doing to stop it.

Sex trafficking is one of the largest organized crimes in the world.  The FBI ha classified San Diego as a "High Intensity Child Prostitution Area" on a list of top 13 cities for child prostitution.

"This is a moneymaking industry, so we see it all around the country especially in big cities that have industry, that have a lot of tourism and big events like Comic-Con and the All-Star Games," said Deputy District Attorney and Chair of the County’s Human Trafficking Advisory Council Summer Stephan. "So we are not very different, but we are different in the way we are attacking it.  We are not going to put up with it.  We are joining up with the community, law enforcement to put a stop to it."

Multiple agencies, including the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office have teamed up to launch "The Ugly Truth" campaign to inform the public about the dangers of human trafficking.  The campaign features billboards, radio spots, and trolley posters that are visible throughout the area.

A recent study by the University of San Diego and Point Loma Nazarene University found there are up to 8,000 trafficking victims per year in the County.  Stephan said the biggest target is kids.

"They target homeless kids, kids that come from foster care from group homes, kids that have not experienced love in their home." said Stephan. "They give them attention and they shower gifts on them, they invite them to parties and soon the tables turn.  The manipulation and deception turns into violence, into tattooing and branding them, into forcing them to produce quotas from selling their body day after day."

One of those victims was Ebony Jones.  She got involved in the trafficking world just a few years ago and says she was easily lured in.

"I grew up in a very dysfunctional alcoholic and abusive home, so it really opened me up to being vulnerable to love and looking for love in the wrong places." said Jones. "I ran into someone that was in the lifestyle, that was very known for being in the lifestyle and once I approached that person, I was easily trafficked into it."

Jones was trafficked for three years.  She said her final turning moment was when she was being held at gunpoint for the third time and realized if she stayed in any longer, she would die.

"It was definitely life-changing for me." said Jones. "It made me feel like there was no humanity in the world, there were no good people in the world.  I felt very judged, very shamed and I was just worthless, a reusable product that no one really felt about who I was as a person but more about what I could do for them.

Jones now is a survivor-leader and works to help educate victims who are in the same position she once was.

"It’s healing.  I cannot express to you how much I’ve grown and really learned how much purpose I have through my struggle and through my experiences that I have gone through and how much I motivate and empower young women that come from the lifestyle that I was in."

To learn more about “The Ugly Truth” campaign and to see resources on human trafficking, visit www.TheUglyTruthSD.org

Categories: Local San Diego News, San Diego People