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February 5, 2019 1:31 p.m.
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There are numerous studies all of them highlight an alarming trend one from the University of San Diego says sex trafficking is the second largest underground economy after drug trafficking here in America's Finest City. The underground sex economy represents an estimated 810 million in annual revenue and its teenagers even preteens who are being targeted by traffickers. Now there's a countywide effort to educate both teachers and school aged children as young as fifth grade on what to look out for and how to help prevent what amounts to sex slavery. Bianca Morales Egan of project Concern International which is one of three nonprofits training teachers and students on human trafficking prevention is joining us.
Bianca welcome. Hello. This countywide project is called the Human Trafficking Prevention collective and so you're working with students and teachers what are you teaching them.
So we first are starting with the teachers and really educating them on what the red flags and signs are of human trafficking. What does it look like when youth are trafficked or being recruited or groomed into trafficking. So starting with that teacher training and then moving into actually preparing them to be able to do the curriculum in the classroom as well in 5th 7th 9th and 11th grade. And how many schools are you guys teaching this end right now. So we're hoping to overall we're hoping to reach over 700 schools across San Diego County.
Right now we're in about 16 schools and you're starting to teach students about human trafficking prevention. In fifth grade why are you starting with that age group.
Yes. So again looking at what the the root causes are we know a lot of it has to do with just resilience and self-esteem of these youth and some of the social emotional learning that they need to become resilient and to know what those signs are. So in the lower levels in the fifth grade and elementary school students we're really looking at you know addressing those root causes. What does it mean to have equality what does it mean to have healthy boundaries. What does it mean to to listen to your inner voice when something's wrong.
How do you move yourself from that situation. How do you use your assertive voice to really giving them those life skills at an early age to help you again build the resilience to protect them from human trafficking.
And when you say that you're also educating teachers on what to look out for. What are some of the things that they stood specifically keep an eye for.
Mm hmm. So you know just a really dramatic change in behavior of students is probably one of the number one things we want them to look for if they used to be part of a sports team used to be part of their yearbook club used to be part of you know active in the school and all a sudden that drops off are coming to school and there's signs of abuse if there's a higher level of anxiety or depression if they have new tattoos if they have you know new fancy clothing or purses or to cell phones while they're falling asleep in class.
We've had a reported incident of a nurse noticing that girls were checking themself out of school saying they're sick. Every Friday afternoon. So what's that trend all about and really you know there was a red flag for her saying something's going on here. So looking at those changes of behavior you know what they're wearing what they look like. And just you know focusing on on you know how they can protect them at that point.
And are there some circumstances or even behaviors that would put a student at a higher risk for being trafficked.
The study that was done by USDA in Point Loma Nazarene mentioned did identify that about 55 percent of those victims had experienced some sort of homelessness and about 30 percent were in the foster care system. So definitely having a history of abuse or neglect or high levels of poverty are indicators and usually it's a higher prevalence within those populations. But we also know recruitment is happening all across and all zip codes across San Diego County. So while there's a higher prevalence and some of those more vulnerable communities or situations of vulnerability that is happening everywhere in California harbors three of the FBI is 13 highest child sex trafficking areas in the nation.
San Diego is in that number. Why is San Diego such a target.
Yeah. I think really it's because of they say when they have higher male transient populations that that no higher demand basically in certain areas that it can cause a higher supply if you will. So knowing that that there is a demands and we used to do an exercise for we put an ad for a fake ad obviously on a Web site known for prostitution as solicitation and we put that ad up and they'd be a call buyer coming in every few minutes at any time of day. We put that ad up. So definitely knowing that there's a demand out there for this.
And how are students being lured into this.
So a lot of it is happening on social media and online. So we do see some of the grooming happening where you know an exploiter will look online for those signs of vulnerability in a young person. And and it usually happens more through that coercion or that boyfriend friending in or creating of a friendship with that person and learning more about them. I mean there's cases of them going back and forth with their potential victim 5000 times on social media before that victim then ran away with them. So they'll spend that time to really get to know that person and sometimes use that information against them.
And you know it may be a photo that they pass on their cell phone a nude photo that they can use that against them later as blackmail or what you know I'll tell your parents about this or I'll tell everybody at school about what's going on here. So a lot of that shame that's built up you know after it happens as well which which means a lot of our our victims aren't coming forward and identifying themselves as victims and so are they are these some of the things that you incorporate into the curriculum for the older students that you are teaching.
Right. So so you know starting with some of that fundamental stuff in the younger ages moving into what these real signs are and how to stay safe on things like social media you know to meeting people online that you don't know and then meeting them in real person isn't the safest choice. And so talking about you know how to stay safe how to keep private information private online is what we start to talk about the older ages maybe the middle school ages and then really you know getting to the heart of the matter in ninth grade in high school and talking about really what sex trafficking and labor trafficking looks like.
I've been speaking with Bianca Morales Egan of project concern International which is one of the three nonprofits with the Human Trafficking Prevention collective. Bianca thanks so much for joining us. Thank you for having me.