The county Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a policy to increase of human trafficking awareness education in public schools.
As proposed by Supervisors Jim Desmond and Nora Vargas, and District Attorney Summer Stephan, the policy will apply to grades kindergarten through 12. As of now, only seventh- and eighth-grade students receive anti-trafficking training.
According to Desmond’s office, the policy will:
- involve using more educational materials across for students, parents/guardians, school staff and teachers
- support working with educational institutions, officials and the state Legislature to require enhanced human trafficking awareness education in the classroom for teachers and students
- find more funding to support on-campus human trafficking prevention programs
According to information on the county agenda, supervisors also directed the chief administrative officer to work on a public awareness campaign that would include billboards, posters, radio and social media; and possible outreach events. The CAO will report back to the board in 120 days with a plan and funding options.
Before the vote, Desmond said that San Diego is one of the nation’s 13 hot spots for human trafficking, and “we do not want to be in the top 13 or any of the top 100.”
Desmond said that sex trafficking generates $800 million a year to San Diego’s underground economy and there are 8,000 victims per year in the county, with average age being 16.
Desmond said that knowledge is power, and the new policy has the potential to prevent children from becoming victims.
“Our goal is to expand the work that our county education team is doing and support their efforts,” he said, thanking Vargas, Stephan and Dr. Paul Gothold, county school superintendent, for partnering with him.
“Human trafficking doesn’t care about your income level or status or where you live,” Desmond said, adding that children are vulnerable due to their social media habits.
Speaking to the board, Stephan said that the policy timing “is absolutely appropriate,” as both the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and a local task force “have seen a trend in the wrong direction, and that trend is for more young people being trapped in human trafficking.”
Stephan said a recent study showed that 90% of San Diego high schools have documented cases of human trafficking.
Stephan added there is strong local enforcement, including Operation Better Pathways that resulted in the arrest of 48 traffickers and criminal buyers. That operation also rescued eight children and eight adults, including a 15-year-old girl “dropped off at 2 a.m. to be sold like a slice of pizza, time after time,” Stephan said.
She added that a suspect used social media to lure the female victim with promises of fame. After six months of grooming by the suspect, the girl was enslaved and abused before being reunited with her family in Arizona, Stephan said.
Stephan said that while education efforts have reached 56,000 in schools, there are 500,000 students in the county.
Vargas thanked Stephan for her efforts, adding that it’s important for young people and parents to have the tools they need to avoid danger.
“This really, truly is a partnership,” said Vargas, board chairwoman.
According to a KPBS report, Desmond introduced the proposal during a Friday press conference and was accompanied by Vargas, Stephan, Gothold and Kileen Washington, a native San Diegan who shared her own trafficking ordeal that started when she was just 14.
“I was stripped from my family,” Washington said. “Sold across the country — over a dozen states in total — for over three-and a-half years.”
City News Service contributed to this article.
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