VISTA — The North County Human Trafficking Collaborative marked the completion of its first year of existence with its fourth meeting at the Townsite Community Center on Feb. 26. The collaborative is an informal group of community activists, charity members, church representatives and civic representatives organized to fight human sexual and labor trafficking.
Each meeting has focused on a different aspect of trafficking, guided by the expertise of a guest speaker. The most recent meeting focused on homeless children. Richard Malolepsy spoke for Stand up for Kids, a national outreach and support organization that feeds and clothes homeless teens through its many shelters.
Homelessness has risen sharply in the past year, largely due to the bad economy. Vista Unified School District Director of Student Support Services Steve Hargrave said the number of homeless students in Vista alone rose to 2,500 from last year’s 500.
As homelessness increases, so does prostitution.
“The homeless, throwaway, runaway population is probably one of the larger percentages of where the pimps and traffickers get their people,” a representative with the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition said. “Juvenile Hall, girls’ rehab facilities … they look at those kinds of places as pay dirt.”
Stand up for Kids’ Oceanside shelter location is kept as secret as possible, and traffickers are steered away by staff. Still, 75 percent of the girls at the Oceanside Stand up for Kids have or are selling themselves to survive. Collaborative President Kaye Van Nevel said she believes that the service Stand up for Kids provides can prevent trafficking, however.
“I think Standup is doing a pretty good job of giving the kids who want (it) another direction,” Van Nevel said.
The group also discussed the several Public Service Announcements, or PSAs, it is trying to get aired in local theaters. Van Nevel said efforts to get the spots aired at the Krikorian Cinemas has stalled, but she gave out copies of the short films to meeting attendees to show in local venues.
Steve Hargrave approved, saying that PSAs are a good way to reach children where the school district is blocked by sensitive parents.
“I’m at a difficult position because if we bring this to some of the students, it gets really controversial because of the subject matter,” Hargrave said.
Finally, on the legal front, Concerned Women for America’s Penny Harrington announced the progress of two anti-trafficking bills recently introduced in the California Congress by Assemblyman Sandré Swanson. They will increase jail time and penalties for trafficking minors.
“It’s taking what we have in California, which is already really good sexual trafficking legislation, and just upping the ante,” Harrington said.
The next collaborative meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. to noon May 28 at the Townsite Community Center at 642 Vista Village Drive. For more information, contact Kaye Van Nevel at (760) 630-7839, or vie e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.