Rotary District 5340: San Diego, California

The Realities of Human Trafficking in San Diego


Yesterday, Michelle Smith from GenerateHope gave a very moving talk about human trafficking – and the startling thing that most of us don’t realize is that this happens right under our noses, right here in our community of San Diego.

GenerateHope’s work with survivors has the ultimate goal of setting these women up for success – setting healthy boundaries, building healthy relationships, and learning the life skills that we take for granted, such as grocery shopping, writing a resume, or opening a bank account. However, to address the larger problem of human trafficking, the work begins even earlier, with us. It begins by changing our attitudes and acknowledging that there are a lot of myths and misinformation that need dispelling:


  • “Trafficking only happens in poor, impoverished areas.” America’s Finest City, San Diego, is the 8th highest intensity area for human trafficking in the nation.
  • “Trafficking involves smuggling people across borders.” While San Diego is on the border of Mexico, 83% of confirmed sex trafficking cases in the United States are US citizens.
  • “Trafficking involves force.” The coercion of women and children into trafficking takes many forms. There are abductions and kidnappings, but there are also women that treated kindly, made to feel beautiful and loved, and then betrayed by those they trust. Some are sold into slavery by parents or a family member.
  • “Prostitutes get paid, and prostitution is a choice.” Maybe, depending on the country and circumstance, but it depends on their history – if someone was put into “the life” at the age of 13-15 and is now 30 and resorting to prostitution because she has never known any other means of surviving, is it really a choice?
  • “Victims should just fight back or walk away.” Don’t underestimate the effects of deeply rooted emotional and psychological trauma on a woman. Many don’t identify as victims and have trouble seeing the manipulation of their trusted friend or family member. Others believe there is no way out.


  • The average age of entry into the sex trade is 13 years old.
  • US $96.6 million is made from the illicit sex trade in San Diego in just one year
  • 98% of sex trafficked victims are women and girls
  • Traffickers look for a certain profile of victim that makes them easier to control. Most often these women (or children) come from backgrounds of abuse or neglect and have low self-esteem. They hook their victims by taking them in, doling out kindness and gifts, and making their victims feel grateful or indebted to them.
  • Methods of control include forced drug use, threats against family and loved ones, controlling personal documentation, when she eats, sleeps, or what she wears.

Look around, and look with compassion. The 18-year-old heroin addict may have started at the age of 13 as a trafficked girl, gotten addicted, run away, and is now living homeless on the streets. She may eventually get picked up, go to prison, get out, and then end up back on the streets with no means to survive.

If you suspect that someone needs help, please do not interfere directly, as the trafficker may be nearby, and victims may be distrustful. Call the National Trafficking Hotline (1.888.3737.888).

Nonetheless, there is plenty that you can do! Donate your time or talent. Share the reality with others. Offer your time to provide social and vocational guidance to survivors learning to navigate daily life. Petition lawmakers to increase penalties for traffickers and buyers – why is it statutory rape to sleep with a 13-year-old girl but only a fine and a slap on the wrist if she is paid – 13 is not old enough to consent! Open up the conversation with your business, organization, or church and get them involved.