Alliance President Casey Gwinn’s work on human trafficking continues to help raise awareness in San Diego and other communities. The large majority of child sex trafficking victims are American children impacted by child abuse and domestic violence who are recruited into the nightmare of sex trafficking by predators.
The event was held Monday at Lemon Grove Academy to raise community and parental awareness about the growing global issue.
Lemon Grove School District Superintendent Ernie Anastos and Academy Principal Rick Oser, and several of the academy’s students and their parents were among the nearly 100 residents who attended the two-hour discussion.
“My hope is that (students) continue to be leaders and continue to know how to protect themselves and also to be advocates to their peers,” Oser said. “This is a difficult topic. We as citizens want to put the blinders on and pretend it doesn’t exist, but as all of you know, it is right here. It’s not just a school issue, but a public issue.”
San Diego County has been identified by the FBI as one of the top 13 high intensity child prostitution areas.
Lemon Grove and Spring Valley are two of the most impacted areas for the number of human trafficking victims, said Ilse Hanning of the Lemon Grove Soroptimist Club, which helped present the program.
The audience watched a 33-minute film by Lemon Grove filmmaker Jim Ellis titled “Indoctrinated: The Grooming of our Children into Prostitution.” The film included interviews with former victims who were able to escape from human trafficking.
Former San Diego City Attorney Casey Gwinn narrates the film and shares some sobering statistics — 300,000 children in the United States are at risk annually.
“It is the most neglected form of child abuse,” Gwinn said in the film. “Children are brainwashed into life they do not truly choose. There’s a false sense of security and worth.”
A panel of experts included:
- Victim services supervisor Lisa Nugent of the District Attorney’s Office
- Violeta Mora of the San Diego County Office of Education
- San Diego Sheriff’s Sgt. Matt Blumenthal
- Mary Delozier of Open Door Ministry, a faith-based support group in Spring Valley
- Charisma De Los Reyes, trafficking and exploitation liaison for child welfare services in San Diego County
Some of what the panel noted:
- Predators find victims as young as 10 years old at shopping centers, around schools and through the internet.
- The number of victims recruited under their parents’ radar via computer and cell phone is rising.
- Most sex trafficking activity is controlled by street gangs, some of which have turned to prostitution as their top source of income.
- Predators often woo the victims with promises of fancy purses, expensive clothes and a glamorous lifestyle.
- The need to belong is seen time and again in victims of human trafficking, many of whom are runaways.
De Los Reyes said, “One of the things that makes a difference that we hear is that (the victim wanted to know) that ‘someone was looking for me when I was missing.’ ”
“Society has given up on such kids, thinking they’re out of control and they don’t want to listen,” De Los Reyes said. “That attitude really needs to change.
“What we can do better is not only intervening but really doing true prevention, about what are really healthy and unhealthy relationships.” she said. “At 15, nobody should ever lay their hands on you.”
De Los Reyes said that human trafficking needs to be attacked on all sides, including “those who are buying sex at $810 million dollars per year in our county. That is a lot of revenue.”