San Diego Nonprofits on Frontline of Child Sex Trafficking Prevention

by Sharon Rosen Leib January 29, 2018


community-engagementThe FBI ranks San Diego County in the United States’ top 13 locations for child sex trafficking. Law enforcement defines trafficking as modern-day slavery involving the use of force, fraud or coercion to ensnare and exploit victims in the commercial sex trade. The United Bank of Switzerland (UBS) Optimus Foundation recently funded the creation of the San Diego Trafficking Prevention Collective combining local education and advocacy services to decrease the number of children trafficked in San Diego.

A Jewish Community Foundation (JCF) San Diego donor education event in January highlighted the Collective’s work.  “The eradication and prevention of slavery is at the heart of the Jewish experience from the time of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt.  Jewish commentary emphasizes the importance of ensuring no human being is subject to slavery,” said JCF President and CEO Beth Sirull.

The Collective consists of three cutting-edge anti-trafficking programs: PROTECT (PRevention Organized To Educate Children on Trafficking), run by 3Strands Global, a Sacramento, California-based non-profit; kNOw MORE!, an awareness and prevention curriculum for middle school and high school children in diverse San Diego communities, run by Point Loma Nazarene University’s (PLNU) Center for Justice and Reconciliation; and Girls Only! And Boys Rise!, programs formulated by Project Concern International, a San Diego non-profit.  With support from UBS and the San Diego District Attorney’s Office, these groups are coordinating their efforts to reach 400,000 children across San Diego County over the next three years.

“San Diego’s inspiring work on this issue puts the county at the frontline of combatting child sex trafficking.  The big, bold efforts to make a difference here will set an example around the globe,” said Sally Faiz, UBS Optimus Foundation’s Program Director for Global Child Protection based in London, England.

Why pilot the program in San Diego?  Professor Jamie Gates, director of PLNU’s Center for Justice and Reconciliation explained his research team conducted focus groups at 20 San Diego County high schools. All 20 schools presented evidence of sex trafficking recruitment. He estimated 3,000 to 8,000 child victims, with an average age of 16, have been targeted for recruitment.  “The victims are from all over the map – both high and low income neighborhoods. They are often recruited through Internet social networks by men who pose as teenagers or offer them modeling opportunities,” Professor Gates said. Accordingly, sex trafficking buyers and sellers range ethnically and economically across the county.

“San Diego has a high rate of trafficking because its internal markets are high in three arenas – conventions, tourism and the military.  These provide anonymous spaces for people to exploit children,” Professor Gates said. “Many people assume that San Diego’s high rate is due to its location on the border.  But 80 percent of the victims are domestic U.S. women and girls.”  He believes early intervention through education is the best form of prevention.

The kNOw MORE! Program devised at PLNU uses interactive role-playing and dramatic reenactments to educate San Diego County middle and high school students about what sex trafficking recruitment looks like and how it can be prevented.  “We want to educate kids to disrupt this crime from happening,” said Ashlie Bryant of 3Strands Global, a lead architect of the PROTECT program’s mission to educate over 300,000 California students and teachers how to recognize and prevent sex trafficking.  “San Diego County has a unique leadership position to make a name for itself all over the United States in terms of prevention,” she said.

JCF San Diego CEO Sirull announced that all grants to the Trafficking Prevention Collective will be matched with a 20 percent donation from UBS Optimus Foundation because of the two organizations’ close relationship. Α

Resources: The Washington D.C. based national trafficking hotline offers 24-hour confidential help 1-888-373-7888. Other human trafficking and awareness tips can be accessed at


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