Team 10: Sex trafficking and the All-Star game

Posted at 9:18 AM, Jul 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-06 22:23:04-04

SAN DIEGO - With thousands coming to San Diego for this week's Major League Baseball All-Star Game, there's a dark side many don't see.

"Anywhere there's a high flux of men, there's going to be a high flux of demand," said Tiffany Mester.

Mester is a college graduate and currently works at a nonprofit organization. She is happily married and hopes to one day have children.

"My life is great," Mester said.

But it wasn't always.

Mester is a human trafficking survivor. As a teenager, she spent many nights walking El Cajon Boulevard and being sold for sex.

She admits she had a tough home life, as her family struggled with addictions.

Mester ran away from home with her sister, who introduced her to life on the streets. Her boyfriend at the time eventually forced her to sell her body for money.

Mester was young, searching for love and she thought that was it.

"I just barely turned 14. He was 19 years old," Mester said.

Her so-called boyfriend forced her to make at least $1,500 a night.

"If I didn't meet that quota, then I wouldn't be able to come in and eat and sleep or drink water even," Mester said.

He kept that money and hurt her when she didn't have it, like the time she was robbed.

"That day, he was hitting me and sodomized me and spitting on me, and just doing really vulgar things," Mester said.

With All-Star Week days away, thousands will travel to San Diego. Mester said that worries her because of all the men coming to San Diego.

Prosecutors told Team 10 about 75 percent of human trafficking is found online.

During All-Star Week, those searches will likely spike, and local law enforcement wants to be ready.

"They can resell the girls. They can resell the women. They can sell boys for pornography," said San Diego County Chief Deputy District Attorney Summer Stephan.

Stephan's mission is to stop this $800 million San Diego industry. She said she needs employees at local hotels, motels and large venues to spot the next victim.

Stephan is teaching employees of various venues to look out for warning signs. Valley View Casino Center is one of the venues participating in the training sessions.

"I've never seen it, I didn't know it really existed," said Ernie Hahn, general manager of Valley View Casino Center.

The venue can hold more than 13,000 people. Large places are a known favorite for traffickers where it is easier to sell sex in a crowd.

"Sadly, nothing surprises me in that regard," said Valley View Casino Center special events manager Jess Hagedorn. "I guess it depends on where demand for it is."

"We want to make sure our staff is aware of those issues," Hahn said.

District Attorney's Office staff and community leaders will pass out cards during All-Star Week near Petco Park with a tip line to turn in suspected traffickers.

That phone number is (888) 373-7888.

Mester hopes those paying for sex realize who they are hurting.

"She has a background story, she has abuse, she has trauma. These girls, they don't choose to be prostituted out," Mester said.