With human trafficking becoming more frequently discussed on social media, according to San Dieguito Academy counselor Ann Nebolon, Academy students decided to take action.
The Amnesty International club is conducting a signature drive advocating for increased police involvement and the Christian Mission Mustang club held a benefit concert called “Breaking Chains” to raise funds for faith-based organizations that combat trafficking.
Human trafficking, often referred to as modern-day slavery, is where individuals are forced into participating in commercial sexual acts, according to the State of California Department of Justice.
According to a study by the Joan. B. Kroc School of Peace Studies at the University of San Diego and Point Loma Nazarene University, roughly 3,147-8,108 individuals are trafficked each year in San Diego.
The study also said that 90 percent of victims nationally are female.
Nebolon said Academy students have been trafficked in past years and “it has always started with online [and social media] connections.”
Amnesty in Action
The Amnesty International club at SDA is conducting a signature drive (a petition that allows minors to sign) to increase police involvement with human trafficking cases in San Diego.
According to a press release from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, the San Diego Human Trafficking Task Force and the National City Police Department launched an undercover operation. The operation, which involved over 75 officers, resulted in the arrest of 13 sex buyers, the release said.
So far, the club has gathered around 115 signatures and is aiming for 10,000, club president Autumn Goldstein, senior said.
The research by Point Loma Nazarene University and the University of San Diego states that roughly 15 to 20 percent of those who have committed trafficking offenses in San Diego were arrested.
“We believe that the police department of San Diego is not only capable of finding and investigating these situations, but obligated to do so, just as SDA students are obligated to call attention to this problem,” the signature drive reads. “The police department exists to protect people. It exists to prevent these things from happening, and to put a stop to those horrors that do occur.”
The club has gone to various locations throughout Encinitas, like Moonlight Beach and Ralphs, asking the public for signatures.
They have also been going to different homerooms to garner student support, which has given them “really good results,” according to Goldstein.
She added that by reaching out to such a wide range of Encinitas’ population, the club has raised much awareness on human trafficking, which adds another layer to their success.
“The more people know, the fewer people are going to stand for it,” Goldstein said.
The “Breaking Chains” benefit concert following SDA’s “Battle of the Bands” was held on Oct. 7.
The event was spearheaded by senior Isaac Rosenbaum, a member of the Mission Mustang club.
He said his hope for “Breaking Chains” was to “raise awareness of human trafficking among my high school peers” in addition to raising money for the organizations.
The event generated just under $2,000 for ToGetHer Freedom, a San Diego based organization, and Hookers for Jesus, which is based in Las Vegas, Rosenbaum said.
He added that by raising awareness through the “Breaking Chains” concert, they were “fighting [human trafficking] at its roots.”
According to University of San Diego and Point Loma Nazarene University’s research, the second to largest underground economy in San Diego is human trafficking. The first is drug trafficking.
The findings determined that predators come from a multitude of backgrounds, and the “average age of entry into child commercial sexual exploitation” is 16-years-old. It also said that San Diego is listed in the top 13 areas nationwide for commercial sexual exploitation of children.
The City of San Diego’s website said California is in the top four states nationwide for human trafficking, mainly because it is “a populous border state with a significant immigrant population and the world’s ninth largest economy.”
Junior Quinn Vondle, a member of the Amnesty International club, added that because people don’t notice it, there is a false assumption that human trafficking isn’t a problem.
“It just seems wrong that that stuff can happen and go on, and people don’t really care,” he said.
Rosenbaum attributes the prevalence of human trafficking in San Diego, and the issue as a whole, to objectification.
“I think human trafficking, in particular, reflects a bigger issue, where we stop seeing each other as valued human beings and instead as objects,” he said.
Kim Berry Jones, co-chair for research and data for the San Diego Regional Human Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Advisory Council, said that while trafficking itself is horrific, it can lead to other challenges for survivors after they’re freed.
“They use drugs and alcohol to numb themselves to be able to live through what they are going through. So, many survivors are…dealing with trying to get sober” in addition to attempting to resume a normal lifestyle, she said.
Jones added that many high school survivors struggle attaining a college education.
“When they look out to the future, they don’t necessarily see a lot of hope. So, the idea of a college education can seem so out of reach to them,” Jones said.
Relevance to HS Students
According to the study conducted by the University of San Diego and Point Loma Nazarene University, of the 20 San Diego high schools that participated, 90 percent “reported documented cases of sex trafficking victimization.” These 20 schools collectively counted 17 recruiters targeting their campuses, according to the study.
Jones added that the participating schools varied: “We didn’t just go to what you would consider like the ‘high risk’ high schools. We went all over.”
This finding “surprised everybody. When we revealed that in the study, that’s when I feel like everybody kind of sat up straight,” Jones said.
“A lot of times, kids will think that…we live in such a nice area and we go to such a nice school, and that’s true, but human trafficking is happening everywhere,” Nebolon added.
Though human trafficking has a presence on high school campuses, according to Jones, there are reasons to care on a broader level.
“I think we should care about the marginalized around us and the marginalized in our midst. And there’s hardly anybody more marginalized than somebody who is being trafficked,” she said.
Goldstein added, “We have a responsibility as human beings to care about each other, especially when it comes to people who are right in our city, in our county.”
Schools taking action
According to Jones, the San Diego Unified School District started integrating a program called “KNOw MORE” into the required curriculum.
During the program, middle, high school and college students learn about the tactics traffickers use through a theatrical presentation, which eventually welcomes student participation in acting out hypothetical, but realistic, scenarios, according to Jones.
“The goal is to take students and move them from being bystanders to what we call upstanders, where they not only recognize [red flags]…but they know what to do about it,” she said. “It’s actually opening up conversations for people that are really at risk, which is really the ultimate goal of it.”
They are also educating high school faculty and staff in case a student seems to be at risk, Jones said while urging high school students to become more aware of human trafficking and their interactions with others, both on and offline.
“Kids do have to become way more aware of the threats…and I think they can be a lot safer if they’re a whole lot more skeptical and maybe stay away from meeting people online,” she said.
Rosenbaum said that in order to prevent human trafficking, “men and women of this world [must be] aware that they simply have to be the generation that stops buying people for sex, and stops selling themselves for sex.”
According to Jones, student leaders are needed to raise awareness on school campuses and look out for their peers.
“We feel really strongly that high school students are key to continuing to stop this in our community,” she said. “We also need to talk to our student leaders because they’re the ones that can mobilize other people. They’re the ones that other people listen to and they can spread the action further.”
Though Jones feels that human trafficking needs to be more seriously addressed, much progress has been made: “There’s an incredible amount of work and collaboration going on…and cities all over the country are really watching San Diego to see what we are doing because we’re really on the front edge of trying to change it.”