I will never forget the time I was parked outside a liquor store in Pacific Beach, waiting for my friends to arrive and join me for a night out.

As I sat there, I saw a young girl around 15 pass by my car a few times. She was very pretty, slender, with blonde hair and blue eyes. I remember thinking, what is she doing out this late, and why is she looking at me like that? For every time she passed me, she had a woeful look of longing—like she wished I would speak to her. I wish I had.

I now have a better idea of what was going on: her trafficker was likely watching from inside the liquor store, making sure she picked up a client.

Sex trafficking is a major issue in San Diego. All too often, young girls are lured in by someone on social media telling them they can make so much money if they flew around the world as an escort. Or a “photographer” saying he can make a girl famous if she models for him. Modeling turns into nude modeling, which is used as blackmail for her to do more lascivious things, and it progresses from there. Or a “boyfriend” says if she would just do this thing ONE time they could be happy together forever—but it never stops with one act—just ask any sex trafficking survivor; they’re more than willing to share their story.

It wasn’t until I read an article on human trafficking a year later that I realized all this; much too late to help that poor girl. I don’t know what happened to her, but I will regret to my dying day that I did not roll down my window and ask if I could help her. Or that it never occurred to me she might not be out in the cold, wearing a low-cut shirt and walking the street by choice.

So many people are fooled into thinking sex trafficking only happens to immigrants, but sadly American citizens are a primary target.

When I turned 18 I was actually propositioned by a girl on Facebook asking me to join an escort service. She told me it was so much fun, and I would get paid just to fly around the world and hang out with men for a few hours. I was curious, so I went to her Facebook profile, and lo and behold she was posed in a thong on her bed, with her legs spread. Thankfully, that image deterred me from responding to her. But I look back and realize that girl could have been me.

It could be your sister, your girlfriend, your daughter.

That is why I write about this topic, and that is why we need to fight it. The best way to do so is to learn about what sex trafficking looks like, so we can find these traffickers, and make them pay for ruining the lives of innocent girls and women.

Possible sex trafficking scenarios, as described by Dr. Susan Munsey, a sex trafficking survivor and victim rehabilitator:

  • A loner in school suddenly has a lot of boys/men texting her
  • If a person has multiple cell phones
  • You see a person start dressing provocatively, and suddenly owning designer items
  • If a person starts using lingo such as “daddy,” “wifey” or talking about “the track”
  • If you see different men coming and going from a hotel room
  • If you see a man trying to pick a girl up at the mall and something doesn’t feel right, pay attention to whether she is uncomfortable with it, especially if he is aggressive about it
  • If you see a man with several scantily clad girls/women in a hotel
    • Or it could be a woman: female pimps are on the rise

Just follow your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t ignore it like I did.

Please visit these sites to learn more and help:

Official study on sex trafficking in San Diego

National Human Trafficking Resource Center (and hotline)

Generate Hope Rehabilitation Center

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