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Sex Trafficking In San Diego: What Can We Learn?

“Measuring the Nature & Extent of Gang Involvement in Sex Trafficking in San Diego,” authored by authored by Ami Carpenter and Jamie Gates and funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, was released October 26, 2016. 
Here are some of their key findings:

  • 80% of sex trafficking “facilitators” (coercive or non-coercive) were gang-affiliated. (Note the limitations of a small sample size: 139 individuals in custody were interviewed; 46 were sex trafficking facilitators; 37 of those were gang-affiliated.)
  • Law enforcement were aware of only 15-20% of the approximately 9-12,000 victims of sex trafficking annually
  • Sex trafficking there generates an estimated $.8 billion annually, second only to drugs ($4.76 billion) 
  • On average, victims enter the sex trafficking system at age 15 and are frequently recruited out of school
  • Demand is widespread, and there is no specific “type” of client 
Interestingly, most facilitators said were more like partners than the stereotypical controlling figure we see on TV. However, they may not have felt comfortable revealing the truth, since by their very nature one of the categories here (the “organized trafficking group” or OTG”) is by its very nature highly secretive (and, implicitly, deadly):
  • 67% said they were revenue-sharing “enforcers-contractors,” drivers who also provide security
  • 28% identified as “traditional” pimps, keeping most or all earnings, with a pimp’s “status” & “recognition” 
  • 4% were “vicious-violent” pimps, who “use extreme tactics of physical and psychological control to force high financial quotas.”
  • None admitted to OTG membership, but many were familiar with them. These groups are secret, run by a “small core group,” multinational, and trade in adults and children alike.
Just like interviewees wouldn’t admit being part of an OTG, they disavowed the use of brute force, even though 14-30% of victims reported experiencing pimp violence. 
  • Economic force: 74% said they took 50% or more of the sex worker’s money. The average pimp income was $670,625 per year. 
  • Psychological force: 57% used “social and emotional isolation, induced emotional exhaustion, and degradation, including humiliation, denial of the victim’s power, and name-calling.”
  • Chemical force: 42% either forced or offered drugs.
  • Violence: Only 12% said used physical and sexual tactics. 
The pimps did admit to recruiting in schools, a fact that was confirmed by actual school employees:
  • 30% of pimps either witnessed or participated in recruitment at the schools.
  • 100% of employees at 20 high schools confirmed recruitment for sex traficking on campus.
  • 90% of the schools had actual cases of sex trafficking.
  • Staffers were aware of 84 gangs known to be actively recruiting in or near campus.
A wide-ranging, three-year study, this work is a model for evidence-based public policy because it is so rich with primary data, including direct interviews with gang members, school employees, law enforcement and victim service providers about this issue.  
We need more research like this, as well as large-sample-size quantitative studies, as the researcheres themselves notes.

More study is needed in order to understand the true scope and nature of sex trafficking, particularly the trafficking of children, in America.

We can’t prosecute what we can’t quantify.


By Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D.
Available for reuse under Creative Commons 3.0 License
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