SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Local, state, and international leaders came together Thursday morning for one common goal — to end human trafficking.
The forum is to commemorate World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, which was observed over the weekend.
Advocates say they are seeing a growing number of victims who are children, because they are vulnerable targets and can fall into the trap more easily.
“Often times the predators or suspect will target children that are coming from maybe a troubled home life. Maybe they don’t have parents at home or parents are working and sometimes left alone,” says Captain Dan Peak. “Next thing you know, the children are on the internet, they are talking to a stranger….they can be unfortunately taken and put into a world of human trafficking.”
The International Network of Hearts hosted the forum for leaders and advocates at the Chula Vista City Council Chambers. The group says it’s not uncommon for suspects to take victims across the border.
“We are committed to ending human trafficking,” says San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan. “We simply cannot have children sold like a slice of pizza over the internet.”
D.A. Summer Stephan says a report was recently released by the San Diego Regional Human Trafficking Task Force.
This group utilized all of the resources throughout the county to fight this problem, and recover adult and children victims who are being exploited. The District Attorney says in the report since 2020 San Diego County went from 150 reports of exploited children to 500. The number continues to grow.
She says what’s also alarming are the ages of the victims are getting younger. The D.A.’s office is seeing more 14-year-old's exploited where in the past the average age was 16.
“This is a step backward,” says Stephan. “Compared to 2020 where we recovered 26 children, just in the first half of this year, 22 minors were recovered. Unfortunately, their ages on average were younger than the minors recovered in 2020.”
The group of leaders are encouraging parents to talk with their children to ensure they understand the risk of befriending individuals, especially adults.
It’s also a good idea to monitor what their child is doing online and who they are talking to on social media. As always if something seems suspicious, report it to the police.