OCEANSIDE — More than 700 gathered at the Pier Amphitheater for the Amnesty International candlelight walk on Oct. 17. This year’s walk brought attention to human trafficking and ongoing efforts to stop it.
More than 300 supporters of the awareness march were students from Rancho Buena Vista High School who were putting in community participation hours. “It’s the one they talk about all year,” Elsie Aquire-Simpson, a Rancho Buena Vista teacher, said. “They are at that age where they’re seeing the world for what it is and maybe find solutions for it.”
An estimated 27 million people around the world are presently living in forced slavery and prostitution. Many are women and girls.
“I think people need to be aware of the human trafficking here and around Vista,” Natalie Vogt, a senior at Rancho Buena Vista High School, said. “We need to spread the awareness.”
The crime of human trafficking is close to home. San Diego is labeled a “High Intensity Child Prostitution Area” by the FBI. Locally there are thousands of reported runaways who are vulnerable to being kidnapped and forced into prostitution.
Local rescue efforts are overwhelmed with girls in need of rehabilitation. The lack of strong laws and high demand for prostitution makes the burden great.
“We’re definitely asleep at the wheel,” Phil Ludwig, CEO of Teen Rescue, said. “This needs to be attacked with laws against prostitution. I believe trafficking can be stopped in this country. Enough of this, our daughters are being brutality victimized.”
Teen Rescue of San Diego and Orange Counties serves 200 girls in its live-
in rehabilitation facility. “Before us there was nothing available for these girls,” Ludwig said. “Prostitution is not a victimless crime. Even if a prostitute is over 21, she was recruited at 14 or 15. They don’t know any other life and depend on their slaveholder. On average, they have a seven- to 10-year life expectancy.”
Financial support for rescue operations is greatly needed.
Awareness and involvement is another way to help. “Be aware of au pairs and maids who are forced into sex slavery,” Ludwig said. “If something across the street looks odd, something is probably going on.”
Ludwig advises teens to stick together and have regular cell phone check-in times arranged with their parents. “Girls are recruited right out of high school,” Ludwig said. He warns that traffickers find their victims through adult plants in high schools who are registered as students, and by isolating and drugging girls at parties.
The National Human Trafficking Hot line is (888) 373-7888.0