New information tonight about the sex trafficking industry in San Diego.
Just-released numbers show real success from a task force which has one mission...bust the traffickers and save their victims.
The national human trafficking resource center found reporting was up in San Diego 27% in the last half of 2016, compared to the rest of the country which was only up .08%.
The San Diego task force that targets sex trafficking is being credited with this trend. It's the same task force that was just awarded #1 in the world by the International Police Chiefs Association.
The reason why this is important is because reporting more means rescuing more...and reuniting more girls with their families. Traffickers lose control, and lives get saved.
To see what's happening first-hand, I, 10News Anchor Kimberly Hunt, walked El Cajon Blvd. with the woman who knows it best...and not the way you think.
Sex Trafficking is Chief Deputy D.A Summer Stephan's number one priority.
She oversees the task force taking on San Diego's second-largest underground industry, behind drug trafficking.
She's gone undercover on El Cajon Blvd. hoping to save even one of the 5 thousand victims a year sold for sex...the average age is 16.
Stephan's team targeted this area.
It went straight to the businesses with a message, if you see it... report it!
Businesses, including dozens of hotels, had their employees taught to see the signs: the guy's too old, the girl doesn't speak for herself...she's bruised...or worse...she's tattooed or branded with barcodes, prison numbers, and signs of enslavement.
This is something I've heard about...but couldn't believe existed...not on little girls. I wasn't prepared for what was about to happen.
A woman came out of the tattoo parlor, asked us about our story...then revealed a heartbreaking story of her own.
Su'a Sulu'ape Angela is a Polynesian hand-tap tattoo artist at Big City Tattoo. She tells us, she was asked by the principal of her son's elementary school to help one of the students.
Branded on the 11-year-old child's thigh was a big, black, and partly scarred tattoo of the letters "M-O-B" which stands for "money over bitches."
Angela was asked to cover the tattoo up. She said she would. She was still emotional even now. Without her help, this child would live with the daily reminder of who owned her.
Angela never knew what happened to the little girl she was asked to help. But, like her... 8%percent of sex trafficking victims in San Diego are American.
A three-year study in San Diego by Point Loma Nazarene and the University of San Diego, which is one of the largest human trafficking studies ever done in the United States, found of the 20 San Diego schools surveyed... 90% had girls who were sex trafficked.
Stephan says she won't stop fighting and working to make the power of community greater than the corruption that claims so many victims.
Stephan told me she's traveled to Thailand and Cambodia where she says the brutal business of sex trafficking is not very different from here. But, what makes the difference she says, is our law enforcement's response to the crime.