Prosecutor outlines SD County’s human trafficking
By Jo Moreland
Alpine Mountain Empire Chamber of Commerce For The Alpine Sun
ALPINE ---- Human trafficking is as close as the nearest shopping center, park or computer.
That’s part of the disturbing regional news about the crime that Deputy District Attorney Mary Ellen Barrett delivered at the June 10 monthly “Hot Topics Business Networking Breakfast” meeting of the Alpine Mountain Empire Chamber of Commerce.
“We have a lot going on in San Diego County,” Barrett said at VFW Bert Fuller Post 9578. “So why do we care? Human dignity.”
Chamber members and guests listened intently as Barrett, a 24-year prosecutor who has put gang members and drug dealers behind bars, talked about the problems of trying to stem the “low risk, high reward” crime. It primarily involves selling girls and women into sexual slavery.
On the up side, Barrett said the crime is being reported more often and there are more resources and education about human trafficking for law enforcement. A new law requires certain businesses to post a phone number for victims who want help, she said.
“They’re finding now that (victims) are suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and we don’t have services for that,” said Barrett.
However, prosecutors who get a human trafficking case stay with it all the way through the justice system. Every defendant was convicted in 2012 and those 54 convictions were more than double those of 2011, Barrett said.
“I thought that it was a very timely topic, especially with our children being left in the care of others more and more as parents have to go to work,” Lori Bledsoe, The Alpine Sun editor and mother of four said later. “I think parents really need to connect more with their children.”
Bledsoe and other Chamber members questioned Barrett about how human traffickers operate, disease and pregnancies, and the sentencing for those convicted. They also wanted to know what happens to the victims and how to prevent the crime.
“What can you do with the demand side?” Barrett said. “I don’t know.”
Co-chair of the San Diego County Regional Human Trafficking and Criminal Sexual Exploitation of Children Advisory Board, Barrett said that about 10 years ago this county’s share of the growing global $32 billion human trafficking industry was $96.7 million ---- tied with the county’s illegal narcotics trade.
“Labor trafficking is also a problem here for field workers,” she said. “We’ve been identified as a high intensity child prostitution area.”
Barrett noted that San Diego, located next to Mexico, is a gateway city for a child trafficking circuit that includes Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
“These people are predators,” she said. “They know the vulnerable ones, and they know where to find them . . . malls, trolley stops, group homes, the Internet ---- Facebook, Facebook, Facebook.”
As part of the meeting at 844 Tavern Road, Chaplain Theo Bazdorf welcomed Chamber members to the VFW Post, which has been in Alpine 41 years, and invited them to VFW events.
For more human trafficking information, call the District Attorney’s Office at (619) 441-4588 or (619) 531-4040 or visit www.sdcda.org.
Open to the public, the Chamber’s next Hot Topics meeting will be July 15 at McDonald’s restaurant in Alpine. Linda Cioffi of the Alpine View Lodge will talk about Alzheimer’s disease. Call (619) 445-2722 to make a $15 reservation that includes breakfast.