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Study Shows Scope Of Sex Trafficking In San Diego County

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October 28, 2015 1:21 p.m.


Jamie Gates, professor, Point Loma Nazarene University

Ami Carpenter, assistant professor, School of Peace Studies at University of San Diego

Summer Stephan, chief deputy district attorney, San Diego County District Attorney's Office

Related Story: Study Shows Scope Of Sex Trafficking In San Diego County


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

This is KPBS Midday Edition. I am Maureen Cavanaugh. For years, law enforcement has no net sex trafficking was big business in San Diego. Social service agencies have known that hundreds of underage girls were being victimized in our region. And police understood that gangs were heavily involved in prostitution. But now, for the first time, we have numbers to reveal the scope of set -- human sex trafficking in San Diego. Those numbers included in a study by two local studies are disturbing. Ginnie Mae as Dr. Jamie Gates he is a professor of point Loma Nazarene University. And Ami Carpenter. Jamie, welcome to the program.
Thank you, Maureen.
Also joining us is Summer Stephan, the chief deputy district attorney. Summer, welcome back to the show.
Thank you, Maureen.
Jamie, the first number is $810 million the year. That was generated by sex trafficking in San Diego. Where is that money going?
Where is that money going? That is a number that includes a total illicit fixed rate in San Diego County. That is any money that is using for sexual activity that is captured in the cash economy of San Diego. It can be sex trafficking, it could be the use of the money for illicit pornography for child sex trafficking. It is -- we estimated that from the study of the urban Institute. There formulas used a study that was published last year. It was a more robust estimates for the cash economy, and more robust estimates from our interviews with sex trafficking facilitators over how much they are earning per year as well.
On a scale from different moneymaking operations in San Diego, where does that put sex trafficking?
Sure, so, in terms of illicit trades, it is smaller than drugs, which is the number one moneymaker on the black market at about 4.7 6 billion. It is larger than the illegal trading guns, which is about 750 million.
You also have the number of sex trafficking victims calculated in the report between 80 812,000. That number will seem high to many San Diego's. Can you explain to us how you came up with that?
Absolutely. We found that there were 1766 victims that came into contact with law enforcement every year. Part of that we found because we found 407 perpetrators or facilitators, we call them, who came into contact that were arrested.
They might commonly be known as temps.
We use the term facilitators, because there are too many stereotypes about this around what temps are. To be for useful in research. We also found facilitators on average, and we think it is a conservative estimate, they were selling for 34, or almost 4 1/2 girls per person who were selling them. Add to that, that we know that those that come into contact with law enforcement is only a percentage of what is out there. We calculated that somewhere around 15 to 20% given other things like drugs, about 20% of the phenomenon. That is how we came to these numbers, which are what hits the law enforcement system.
So, this was the same way that you would calculate based on the number of people that you know are involved in this activity. You just calculate best calculated it out any formula would be done.
Exactly. We know that this system is only catching a smaller percentage of the whole. That is how we calculated it.
Summer, does that number seem right to you?
It is a very shocking and high number, but I think from what used to be anecdotal experience of this crime, this seems about right. What we have to compare it to is our history with child molestation. For the minors, it is child abuse. The high number of cases where we come into contact with a person who has been molested as a child for years and doesn't report until they are about 24. From the fact that we talk to child molesters, they tell us that they've had 16 more victims than the one victim that we know about. Based on that this is a symbol -- similar sex trafficking, it is such a hidden crime. It is a crime of shame, and exploitation. In similar ways as child abuse, it does seem like a correct number.
You touched on the hidden quality of this. Some people might say that, if so many girls are being trafficked in San Diego, why don't we see it? Similar to like the time when 25 years ago when alcohol in Boulevard was a prostitution hangout. Where is this happening? Why don't we see it?
We don't see it because it has moved to the social Internet -- the social media. This is according to other studies, and also from the experience of law enforcement. When we go out on these cross-country operations, they are very different in the last few years. The activity in plain view on our street has really declined. But, the Internet back page, Facebook, they are helping with this kind of exploitation.
Jamie, the report shows that half of the first time arrest in San Diego actually involve sex trafficking victims. Just so that we understand the terminology, had you do that differentiate prostitution from [ Indiscernible ]
42% of the data that we found in the first-time offender programs, 42% were arrested for prostitution. We consider those sex trafficking victims. 25% of those were brought into the life of underage. So, anybody under the age of 18 who was brought into a commercial sexual act falls under human trafficking laws, and we assume they are trafficking victims. For those of you that are 18 or older, there has to be forest, fraud, and coercion. There was evidence that this was happening by force, fraud, or coercion, then we included them in this number as well. They don't necessarily tell there for life story to the law enforcement when they come into contact with them. We are looking at essentially what there life stories are, and going back to data in the past 15 years to figure this out.
Summer, does law enforcement recognize those kinds of distinctions? Or, if a young girl is picked up for selling six, is she just booked for prostitution?
Law enforcement has done a great job in San Diego of really learning about this crime and understanding that it is pretty rare to have somebody engaged in prostitution that is not controlled by someone. It is not a common event. Now, what happens is, when they are minors, that is very clear. Winners can't rent hotels or drive there. The number one place of business for this crime are hotels and motels. So, that is very clear that you have a trafficker involved in posting the girl in the sophisticated way that they are sold. But, these same girls, if they start, according to the study of 1415, when they turn 18, they are not all of a sudden going to be bankers. That is all that they've known, is that they are an object to be sold and to be demeaned, and to be abused. When they continue, law enforcement now has a checklist of questions, and the include trying to find out if this person is being exploited, even if they are an adult. What we find is that they are not willing to tell about there abuse. They are afraid of law enforcement, and traffickers make them so, they encourage dependency on the trafficker, the encourage the bonds, sometimes Romeo bonds that are built like a devout -- domestic violence phenomenon. This is extremely complex, and we are excited about the study. It puts down on paper all of the observations that we've had, but now, they are supported by real evidence. And, we are in evidence-based County. We want to go where the evidence is.
Cheney, as Somerset, the median age or average age of the sex trafficking victims that you studied is like 14, or 15 years old. It's very surprising that the girls are that young. Also, we find out where the nation of origin. Tell us a little bit about that.
Sure. Some studies have shown in different parts of the world, and even in the US, that argue that the the entry is around 12, or younger. I think it is really important to have an accurate age of the population like this, because we are going to aim our resources and policy, and ways of helping. So this 14, and 15 1/2 number is accurate given our population here. That means that is our middle school or young high school girls. 97% of those that had the system are girls in this case. Although, we think boys are undercounted in underresearched at this time. In terms of there nationality, he percent of home we updated on -- are from the USA. Our citizens, neighbors, and people born here, and trafficked here. Even the traffickers here are also US citizens.
Etiquette comes as a surprise. I think the image that a lot of people have an their mind of the sex trafficking victim is someone from a poor village in a Third World country, maybe Mexico, who has been duped into the life, and probably wind up in the United States and extremely vulnerable position. How do teenagers here in San Diego recruited and forced into the flight?
So, it is true that the first image that we get is of a foreign person, not from the United States, though statistics that was talked about are what we are saying. A good percent of our trafficking victims are domestic victims right here from our schools in San Diego. They get recruited several ways. Consistent with the study, the runaways are the biggest target. We have a large pool of runaways at any one time, about 2500. Those kids, when they run away from home, it may be that they have a dysfunctional family, but we are noticing a lot of growth of good families that one away because they are teenagers. They think that they will survive. What they don't realize is that the stranger that pulls up on them and offers them a right to a party, or to a safe home, is actually the exploiter that will make the amount of money off there backs over and over. Once they are seduced and exploited into the lifestyle one time, they are then trapped with there -- their own shame for returning to there families. They are also recruited from schools. I did a training to school nurses in San Diego unified, and one of the biggest things is to make sure that the nurses, when a girl says she is ill and needs to leave school, that more questions are asked. Also, that there isn't another girl with her. Because, the recruiters are using older girls to befriend the younger girls in order to keep a supply of victims.
And, apparently there is recruiting going on using Facebook of young girls.
Absolutely. The stranger -- we tell parents all the time -- the stranger is not the stranger out there. The stranger is the one that is talking to your gross right on the social media and Internet. We have had so many cases from Facebook where we have had traffickers posing as a Romeo, as somebody that wants to be the girl's boyfriend, once to invite her to a party, then there is drugs and alcohol. Sometimes, we have seen compromising photos taken, and the girls being threatened that the photos will be used and sent out to there school friends. But, if they did these few sexual favors, that wouldn't happen. Once the girls do that, then that is it. They are now being exploited over, and over, and over.
Jamie, what is your report show about these gangs that run these operations?
That was our particular focus was a relationship between sex trafficking and gangs. We found a total in all four methods that were used, there were 110 gangs involved. I think our study will expose some of the falsities and stereotypes of rankings. They are very different types of things when we say gangs. Of what to caution our audience to look at the study deeply, and learn more about the nuances. Hundred and 10 gangs, that is a lot of activity. We have found that it is a growing percentage of income for organized groups migraines, clicks, et cetera. It is all over the county. We found that the North County, we found that several County East County, in the South Bay.
What did you find out about the people in the community who are buying sets from these trafficking victims?
That is a really good questions. Our study did not focus on systematic data on the buyers, but it is certainly probably the most pressing question at the moment. What more can we say about them?
Will we did find out about the facilitators, not the buyers themselves, but from the scintilla taters and victims, are the buyers are all over the cultural ethical ground they are white color, blue-collar folks, teachers, farmworkers. The stereotype of a six buyer, also we need to shift in the way we think about it. If there were no buyers, this industry would collapse.
SJ Jamie said, not only are they all over the county, but sex trafficking by gangs goes all over the country, and specifically all over the Southwest. You work with law enforcement agencies and other areas to stop and prevent this type of trafficking?
We have known that gangs are heavily involved in human trafficking we have really discovered that this is a renewable source of income, and also unlike rugs and guns, there victims are not speaking. They are silent. They do not call law enforcement. That is the perfect method and criminality for these gangs. To address the growing issue, you need very tough law enforcement, because you need witness protection for your victims. It is a game changer. You have to be able to make sure that you relocate and provide services. For that, we formed the San Diego human task force with state local and federal authorities from every agency share of, San Diego PD, Department of Justice, and we work and coordinate with other taskforces across the state of California.
In fact, there will be a trafficking summit tomorrow with the [ Indiscernible ] attending?
Yes. We are very excited about that it is the blue ribbon commission. These are experts from school and courts coming to San Diego, along with six other regions to look at what our successes have been and what the best practices have been. Where are our challenges? They will do that for several counties, and then pull together the information so that we all can share in each other's best practices.
Well there is a wealth of information in this new study. Have to end it here, but I really want to thank my guess. I've been speaking with San Diego prosecutor and Jamie Gates who co-authored the study that was called , Measuring the Nature and Extent of Gang Involvement in Sex Trafficking in San Diego . Thank you, very much.