County supervisors OK policy to increase human-trafficking awareness in schools
The policy will apply to kindergarten through 12th grade to try to reverse a trend of ‘more young people being trapped in human trafficking.’
The San Diego County Board of Supervisors this week approved a policy to increase human-trafficking awareness in public schools.
As proposed by Supervisor Jim Desmond, board Chairwoman Nora Vargas and District Attorney Summer Stephan, the policy will apply to kindergarten through 12th grade. Currently, only seventh- and eighth-graders receive anti-trafficking education.
According to Desmond’s office, the policy approved Aug. 29 will:
• Involve more educational materials for students, parents and guardians, teachers and other school staff members
• Support working with educational institutions, officials and the state Legislature to require enhanced human-trafficking education in classrooms for teachers and students
• Find more funding to support on-campus human-trafficking prevention programs
Supervisors also directed the chief administrative officer to work on a public awareness campaign that would include billboards, posters, radio, social media and possible outreach events. The CAO will report to the board within 120 days with a plan and funding options.
Before the vote, Desmond said San Diego is one of the nation’s 13 hot spots for human trafficking. “We do not want to be in the top 13 or any of the top 100,” he said.
Desmond said sex trafficking generates $800 million a year for the San Diego region’s underground economy and that there are 8,000 victims per year in the county, with an average age of 16.
Knowledge is power, Desmond said, 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. He thanked Vargas, Stephan and county Superintendent of Schools Paul Gothold for partnering with him.
“Human trafficking doesn’t care about your income level or status or where you live,” Desmond said. He added that children are vulnerable due to their social media habits.
Stephan said the policy’s 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 indicated that 90 percent of San Diego-area high schools have documented cases of human trafficking.
Stephan said there is strong local enforcement, including Operation Better Pathways, which she said resulted in the arrest of 48 traffickers and criminal buyers. The 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.
Though education efforts have reached 56,000 children in schools, there are 500,000 students in the county, Stephan said.
Vargas said it’s important for young people and parents to have tools they need to avoid danger. “This really, truly is a partnership,” Vargas said.
Kileen Washington, a native San Diegan, spoke at a recent news conference about her own trafficking ordeal that started when she was 14.
“I was stripped from my family,” Washington said. “Sold across the country — over a dozen states in total — for over 3½ years.” ◆
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