Sex-trafficking prosecutions in San Diego County have quadrupled in the last four years. The rise is due partly to a spike in the number of young girls forced to sell themselves and turn their earnings over to their gangster pimps.
County prosecutors filed nine sex trafficking cases in 2009. Last year, that number rose to 43. Deputy District Attorney Mary Ellen Barrett said the office is getting better at investigating and prosecuting sex-trafficking cases.
“But I also think it’s becoming more common place," Barrett said. "I think the involvement of gangs has taken it to another level because with the gang involvement you have the credible threat. You now have a pimp connected to 50 other hardcore scary people so that one victim will feel more traumatized and less likely to leave.”
This week, a federal grand jury indictment was unsealed against 24 North Park gang members. They are accused of running a sex-trafficking business in 23 states using underage girls and women.
Meanwhile, Barrett believes efforts to heighten awareness about child prostitution are paying off. She said police officers, child protective services and educators are better equipped to recognize signs that a girl is being forced to prostitute herself.
“Without the awareness, nobody was talking to each other," Barrett said. "Nobody really knew what they were looking at.”
January is human-trafficking awareness month.
Listen online at Sex-Trafficking Prosecutions Spike In San Diego County.