Local and international leaders and advocates gathered at Chula Vista City Council Chambers to spread awareness about the realities of human trafficking in the San Diego and Tijuana regions.
The International Network of Hearts hosted the conference on Thursday for the tenth consecutive year to commemorate World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. Alma Tucker, the president of the International Network of Hearts said “We focus on education, services, and prevention so no more child, woman, or man has to go through this horrible crime of human trafficking."
Every year, thousands of men and women fall into the clutches of traffickers in their communities and abroad. According to the nonprofit, almost every country in the world is affected by trafficking, which generates roughly $150 billion annually.
Advocates said they are seeing a growing number of victims among the most vulnerable members of our communities—children.
“All of us are joined together because we are committed to ending human trafficking. We simply cannot have children being sold like a slice of pizza over the internet for the selfish needs and greed of traffickers and buyers,” said San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan.
According to Stephan, a report from the San Diego Regional Human Trafficking Task Force “is a step backward”. The report found that in 2020, 26 minors were recovered, but 22 were recovered in just the first half of this year. The report also found that the minors who recovered this year are younger on average.
“We are seeing many 14-year-olds when the average was 16. We are seeing many 12 and 13-year-olds being recovered in hotels and motels in completely unacceptable conditions,” Stephan said.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported a jump in missing children from one million to four million in 2020, within the first two months when schools were in non-operation. Stephan said that since 2020, reports of exploited children in the region increased from 150 to 500, and those numbers continue to grow.
According to Chula Vista Mayor Mary Casillas Salas, "It is important that we identify at-risk children and women in our community, so we can stand for these individuals through education, prevention, and training.
San Diego has a program in place at local schools to train children on building resilience in knowing the signs of online deception. According to Stephan, the program has trained 15,000 children and 9,000 teachers who can now detect these signs and are now able to intervene.
According to Chula Vista Police Capt. Dan Peak, having these tools, and resources such as law enforcement on school grounds are important in detecting these issues.
“This is such an important issue, and there is a need to have officers on campus so officers can have that connection with children where they feel comfortable coming foward with this issue after being targeted by a predator,” said Peak.
Campuses throughout the county use the P3 anonymous tip line that allows students to report threats or issues at schools. According to Peak, it has been successful in not only identifying weapons on campus but also identifying the vulnerable targeted by human traffickers.
For more information reach out to the Network of Hearts at firstname.lastname@example.org