By Elizabeth Aguilera on March 1, 2013—
“Human-trafficking cases filed in San Diego federal court have jumped more than 600 percent in the past five years as the victimization of children and adults for sex or labor has gained a bigger spotlight, law-enforcement officials said Friday at a regional conference on the topic.
One of those cases began when a San Diego teenager found a job as a bookkeeper for a small, home-based business. The position quickly turned into a nine-month nightmare of beatings and sexual slavery. Within weeks, the employer revealed himself as a pimp, beat the teen and set a $1,200 daily quota for her prostitution. The victim was 17 at the time.
On Friday, she shared her story at the American Bar Association’s daylong conference at the University of San Diego. The pimp was arrested as part of a law-enforcement investigation, and he is serving 30 years in prison.
The survivor, now 20, asked not to be named for this story. But she decided to speak at the event because “how else are people going to know what is happening here in our community?” More than 175 attorneys, advocates, educators and doctors attended her session and others.
U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said the huge increase in federal prosecutions — from a couple five years ago to dozens now — is expected to rise further as special units in her office, local and federal law-enforcement agencies, nongovernmental groups and educators focus on trafficking.
Nationally, the Department of Justice has seen its number of trafficking cases increase 30 percent in the past three years, she said.
Paralleling the growth in enforcement has been the rising amount of money spent on creating public awareness of the crime and helping victims. The combined efforts are aimed at curtailing what has become the second-most lucrative criminal endeavor in the world.
Friday’s conference, the first of its kind in San Diego County, is evidence of the greater attention paid to the issue in the past year. Grassroots campaigns against human trafficking received a significant boost with President Barack Obama’s speech in September and his executive order requiring stricter hiring guidelines, increased training and other efforts.
Experts said there is actually more labor trafficking in the United States than sex trafficking, but that it is harder to prosecute because victims are mostly migrant men who are reluctant to report the abuse. Sex-trafficking victims, usually thought to be foreign, are predominantly U.S. girls.
“Human trafficking is not isolated to third world countries. It’s prevalent all across the globe, it’s prevalent in our own borders,” Duffy said. “All ages and all ethnicities are being victimized.”
Americans make up 72 percent of human-trafficking victims, according to a report released last year by California Attorney General Kamala Harris.
Duffy said the victims have gotten younger in recent years; the typical age of a new victim is now 12 to 14.
The affected children are not all runaways or kids from broken homes. Gangs have moved into the trafficking business because they see the selling of girls as a recyclable, highly lucrative and low-risk product.”
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