Getting the victims out of their environments and into a safe space is also critical for getting a victim on the path to testifying and turning her life around.
A lack of bedspace in the county has proved challenging. Of the mere 25 beds in the county, GenerateHope has eight.
“We have nowhere near enough beds,” Munsey said. “I turn away 10 to 20 women each month. That is just the hardest part of my job. . The funding is not there.”
And none of those 25 beds is for juvenile victims. If they don’t have family to go back to, they can be sent to Juvenile Hall or put in group homes or foster care — places that make them especially vulnerable to further recruitment.
Investigations have also become trickier as traffickers adapt.
“It’s a constantly changing playing field,” Rice said. “Once we get a successful method, there seems to be a shift.” For instance, he said some sex trafficking websites are using the hard-to-track Bitcoin as currency now instead of cash.
Another surprising factor that may play a role is race.
While the majority of gang-related sex trafficking cases being prosecuted in the county are of black gangs, the study found that Hispanic and white gangs are equally involved. This information was learned through nearly 160 interviews with gang-affiliated people in prison for various crimes, said one of the study’s authors, Carpenter.
“Black gangs are very outspoken and flashy about their pimping identity,” she said, noting how the lifestyle is glamorized in pop culture and rap music, and openly boasted about on social media.
She said Hispanic and white gangs admitted to the same behavior, only they conducted it more under the cloak of darkness, for different reasons.
“Hispanic guys reject that label pimp. They say we are their protectors, bodyguards. They are contracted by women to drive them around,” Carpenter said.
“The Mexican Mafia does not formally approve of prostitution, and a lot of guys we talked to have to keep it on the down-low because they don’t want to have a hit out on them, or if they start making too much money at it they start getting taxed,” she said. “They’re not Facebooking this stuff.”
White biker gangs also keep it quiet, sometimes to protect their club membership and also because they have become more savvy about how prosecutors are going after human trafficking under organized crime statutes, she said.
She said there was also evidence of human trafficking by Native American groups in casinos, a Somali gang and a Chaldean gang, according to information learned through interviews and local prosecutions.
In January, 15 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies formed The San Diego Violent Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation Task Force to attack the issue.
The effort has expanded statewide with the creation of the Human Exploitation and Trafficking — or HEAT — Institute. Founded this year by Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, the group is bringing others into the fold, including education officials, foster care advocates, child welfare leaders, attorneys, physicians and other service providers.
The commission held its first summit in San Diego Thursday, one of six information-sharing sessions with key stakeholders to be held throughout California. The information is to be gathered in a report and analyzed for recommendations and an action plan.
“We can’t fight this battle ourselves,” Imperial County District Attorney Gilbert Otero implored the roomful of advocates Thursday. “This is about getting everyone together and on the same page when it comes to human trafficking.”
Prostitution: Getting Girls Out of "The Game"
A major key to taking down gangs' growing sex trafficking operations is treating the involved prostitutes as victims.
April 28, 2014 | by Melanie Basich.
Picture a frightened 13-year-old girl selling drugs on a street corner earning money to feed her siblings. She’s terrified that if she doesn’t her already crumbling family will be separated. One day a good-looking young man who buys drugs from her expresses concern for her safety. He says she can live with him and he’ll take care of her and protect her family. As you might have guessed, it turns out his offer is too good to be true.
Soon, the man she thought was her boyfriend and protector is selling her for sex to make money for his gang. She is stuck in “the game” for more than five years and spends more time in jail than the sex trafficker she lives with because she’s seen as a criminal instead of a victim. She’s so hardened and psychologically manipulated by her captor that it would be difficult to identify her as someone who needs and seeks help.
This is a true story, and it’s unfortunately not uncommon. Now, law enforcement agencies have started to recognize that most prostitutes are victims who were brought into a life of trading sex for money when they were young and impressionable, and they don’t know how to escape.
Prostitution is, as they say, the oldest profession. But now gangs are getting in on the action in a big way. Their already established tricks for luring lonely kids into their ranks are also extremely effective in recruiting girls as young as 12 for the sex trade.
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