Human Trafficking

Summer Stephan
District Attorney, San Diego County

As your District Attorney, I am committed to preventing and prosecuting crimes of human trafficking while treating victims with dignity and compassion. Please get help for yourself or a suspected victim from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center toll free, 24/7 Hotline:

CALL 1-888-3737-888 or TEXT to BeFree (233733).

If this is an emergency, call 911.


Human trafficking is considered by many to be a form of modern-day slavery where perpetrators exploit human beings for profit. Traffickers treat victims as their property. There are two kinds of human trafficking: sex and labor. Both are a violation of basic human rights and both are crimes under U.S. federal law and California state law.

Sex trafficking occurs when one person uses force, fraud, coercion, deceit, violence or threats of injury to make another person engage in commercial sexual activity or pornography. (When the victim is under the age of 18 years old, sex trafficking does not require force, fraud, coercion, deceit, violence or threats of injury. Minors cannot legally consent to sexual activity.)

Labor trafficking occurs when one person uses force, fraud, coercion, deceit, violence or threats of injury to make another person engage in forced labor or services.

To hear from experts in this field, including District Attorney Summer Stephan and Survivor and Survivor Advocate Keelin Washington, please visit to watch the San Diego Harbor Police Foundation Panel discussion from May 2022.

Additional Information

  • Human trafficking affects everyone and it is everywhere. Victims are hiding in plain sight.
  • The International Labor Organization estimates human trafficking is a $150 billion global industry.
  • In San Diego, sex trafficking alone is an $810 million a year industry. San Diego was identified by the FBI as one of the top 13 areas in the country for commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC).
  • Human trafficking (unlike smuggling) does not require that a victim be moved over state or international borders. A child can be born in San Diego, raised in San Diego, never leave San Diego, and be trafficked right here in San Diego.
  • Commercial sexual activity mostly occurs in motel and hotels, and increasingly in short term rentals.
  • Labor trafficking victims are often forced to work as maids in private homes, in illicit massage businesses, in nail salons, as day laborers, in the fields, in janitorial services, in hotels and motels, in health services and eldercare facilities, in construction, in manufacturing, in restaurants and in landscaping, and even in candy and flower sales. Some are even forced to beg on the street. They often receive little or no pay.

Victims of human trafficking include people of all genders, ethnicities, and ages. They also come from all socioeconomic and family backgrounds.

In San Diego, 80% of sex trafficking victims were born in the United States, the average age that they first become victims is between 14 and 17 years old, and they live in every area of our county.

Risk factors that can increase someone’s chances of becoming a victim of sex trafficking according to studies are:

  • Being a runaway because when they are on the streets they need food, clothing and shelter. The same is true for homeless children. Because of their vulnerabilities, they are often propositioned for commercial sex.
  • Being involved with child welfare or the foster care system.
  • Being involved with an older man who is often pretending to be a boyfriend.
  • Using drugs or alcohol.
  • Having financial problems.
  • Having unmet mental health or emotional needs.
  • People with developmental disabilities.
  • Having a family member who is involved in commercial sexual exploitation of children.
  • Having a history of prior trauma, whether that is having been sexually abused, having witnessed or been a victim of family violence or having been neglected.
  • LGBTQIA+ people.

For more information, visit the San Diego County District Attorney’s webpage

Labor trafficking victims are often recruited in their home country to work in the US at a job that they are told will pay well. When they arrive in the US, they are told not only do they have to pay back the cost of their transportation to the US but they also have to pay for their room and board. As a result, they have almost no money leftover. Traffickers often hold their identification documents, visas, and passports. The victims come to the US to better the lives of themselves and their families and end up enslaved, feeling that they can’t go to the police because they may have overstayed their visas, they may have had negative experiences with police in their home countries, they may be under surveillance, and the traffickers may have threatened them.

Traffickers include people of all genders, ethnicities, and ages. They may be family members of the victims or be strangers who befriend the victims to gain their trust and then exploit them. Organized crime syndicates control many of the illicit massage businesses and recruit victims from overseas. Gangs are also involved in trafficking.

With labor trafficking, the victims are often recruited in their home country to come to the US and then are exploited upon their arrival.

With sex trafficking, recruiters operate in person and online. The three most common means of recruiting in San Diego are:

  • “Boyfriending” typically occurs when an older male contacts a younger female, flatters her, starts a dating relationship with her, convinces her that they will be together forever and be able to buy a house with a white picket fence, and showers her with gifts (purses, phones, paying to get her hair or nails done). Once he has her hooked and sold on the dream, he tells her that their lifestyle is expensive and she can help by having sex for money … just one time. Of course, his intention was never to have her do it just one time. If she goes through with it, then he blackmails her and tells her he will let her friends and family know what she has done.
  • “Girl recruiters” will befriend someone who looks like they could use a friend. They will speak with the victim about their home life and any problems they are experiencing and will gain the victim’s trust. They will then bring them into the life of prostitution and often threaten them or blackmail them if they try to leave.
  • Recruiters will approach victims with fraudulent job offers, often with the promise of getting them a career in modeling. Once the victim is at the photo shoot to build a portfolio, the trafficker will ask them to take their clothes off for better shots, and if the victim does that, the trafficker will blackmail them with their nude photos.

Recruiting for sex trafficking occur wherever kids are present – at trolley and bus stops, house parties, schools, malls, church youth groups, and on internet-connected devices through social media, dating websites, and videogames that allow multiple users with chat features.

Parents, teachers, employers, counselors, nurses, doctors, other professionals and friends of trafficking victims are often unaware of the abuse that is happening right in front of their eyes.

The list below represents some of the things you may see; these factors may not be present and must be considered in context.

  • Running away from home
  • Truancy, chronic absenteeism
  • Sudden drop in grades
  • Change of friends or alienation from regular friends
  • Rumors among students regarding sex activities
  • Sudden change in behavior, attitude or attire
  • Anger, aggression, being suicidal or fearful
  • Has a new and mysterious/secretive “boyfriend” or an older friend
  • Use of drugs
  • Weight loss
  • Bruises or other physical trauma
  • New cell phone or multiple cell phones - is texting/talking on one of the phones constantly
  • Secrecy with social media and phone
  • Is monitored closely or restricted
  • Not allowed to speak for themselves (e.g. 3rd party insists on translating or being present)
  • Is in fear of someone else
  • Use of terminology related to prostitution
  • Tattoos that are related to pimping/prostitution activity (e.g. Victim: Roses, Crowns, $'s, someone else's name; Trafficker: AOB, MOB, $'s)
  • Wears clothing not matching the weather conditions
  • Shows signs of poor hygiene, malnourishment, fatigue or emotional distress
  • Can't provide a cohesive timeline or story
  • Can't say where they live
  • Has few or no personal items
  • Lives and works in the same place
  • Is unpaid, paid very little or paid only through tips
  • Doesn't control their own money, financial records or bank account
  • Doesn't control their own identification documents (e.g. ID, passport or visa)

For more information, visit the National Human Trafficking Resource Center
(NHTRC) at,
Polaris Project at,
DHS’s Blue Campaign at

  • Sex traffickers recruit in person and through internet-connected devices
    • Cell phones, Tablets, Computers
    • Gaming devices through multiplayer video games with chat features
    • On dating sites
    • On social media
  • How to protect yourself
    • Turn your location settings off on apps where you chat
    • Do not share personal information, such as where you live, go to school, hang out
    • Set your accounts to private – check privacy settings after updates
    • Only accept requests from people you know in real life
    • Do not accept invitations to parties of anyone not in your trusted circle and always let an adult know where you are going
    • Do not believe claims by people who say they are photographers or producers who tell you they are going to make you famous.
    • Do not be lured by lines commonly used to recruit victims like “You’re pretty. You could make some money,” “I’m here for you,” “it is you and me against the world,” “just do this one thing for me so we can pay the bills,” “I’ll take care of you”
    • Do not click on links from users you do not know in real life
    • Monitor your followers and delete anyone who makes you feel uncomfortable
    • Do not accept digital money, tips, or gifts in exchange for pictures or videos
    • Do not send nudes – you never know who will see them
  • For children
    • Have ongoing conversations about internet safety
    • Use language filters
    • Use chat blockers
    • Require adult permission before downloading apps
    • Set time limits
    • Set spending limits
    • Do not allow headsets so conversations can be overheard
    • When possible, devices should be used in shared spaces
    • Consider using monitoring software
    • Put accounts in your name and know the child’s passwords

For more tips and information regarding internet safety, visit the San Diego County District Attorney’s webpage, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and Sharedhope International

  • Become aware and educate yourself as to the facts and myths of human trafficking.
  • Educate yourself on the warning signs and red flags of human trafficking.
  • Save the human trafficking hotline in your phone and post it on any social media that you use to inform others.
  • Report suspected human trafficking activity by calling 1-888-3737-888 or texting BeFree (233733). Call 911 if there is an emergency.
  • Stop the demand for sexual and labor exploitation that constitutes the profit that drives human trafficking, i.e. buying sex, buying cheap labor.
  • Support legislation that holds perpetrators accountable and promotes dignity for victims.
  • Support and encourage your local schools to educate their teachers, counselors, health providers and staff about this topic.
  • Support and encourage your local schools to educate children about this topic so they can avoid the pitfalls or ask for help.
  • Encourage your civic or faith based organizations to become educated and educate their members about human trafficking.
  • Support victims of human trafficking through welcoming them into our communities and directing them to the professional resources available.
  • Place the human trafficking poster in your place of business to spread awareness.

The San Diego City Human Relations Commission initiated a county wide effort with the help of the San Diego District Attorney’s Office, Sheriff, police, victim services and community based civic and faith-based groups to implement a new law that required the posting of certain information about human trafficking and the human trafficking hotline at required establishments. You may visit their website to learn more about the commission and the commissioners who serve it at

Senate Bill 1193, enacted April 1, 2013 added Section 52.6 to the Civil Code. This new law requires specified businesses and other establishments to post a notice informing the public and victims of human trafficking of telephone hotline numbers to seek help or report unlawful activity.

Posting Notice

The locally designed poster offered below is being provided for your convenience and includes all three posting languages condensed into one easy to use notice. Alternatively, the Attorney General's Office for the State of California has also created a model template which can be found on their website: Office of the Attorney General.

Locally Designed Posting Notice

The posting notice below is available in two print sizes, both 11x14 and 11x17. The 11x14 notice should be printed on 11x17 paper and can be trimmed to down to 14 inches.

Businesses required to post:

  • Adult or sexually oriented businesses
  • Bus stations
  • Businesses or establishments that offer massage or bodywork services for compensation
  • Emergency rooms within general acute care hospitals
  • Farm labor contractors
  • Intercity passenger rail or light rail stations
  • On-sale general public premises licenses under the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act
  • Primary airports
  • Privately operated job recruitment centers
  • Roadside rest areas
  • Truck stops
  • Urgent care centers

To find the Attorney General's model notice and more detailed information on the specific types of required businesses, please review the Attorney General's website at: Office of the Attorney General.

Posting Location

Post in conspicuous place near the public entrance, or in another conspicuous location in clear view of the public and employees where similar notices are customarily posted.

Posting Dimensions

  • At least 8.5 inches by 11 inches
  • Written in 16 font

Posting Languages

Notices must be posted in English, Spanish and in one other language that is most widely spoken in the business or establishment's location. The following three languages, in addition to English and Spanish, have been identified by the Attorney General's Office for San Diego County.

  • Tagalog
  • Chinese
  • Vietnamese


  • The Sex Crimes and Human Trafficking Unit consists of specialized prosecutors, investigators, paralegals, victim advocates and staff who work together to combat human trafficking on all fronts: Detection, Prevention, Education and Prosecution. Contact 619-615-6426 or visit
  • The Workplace Justice Division enforces and protects workers’ rights. This includes prosecuting criminal wage theft cases and stopping labor trafficking. Visit
  • Collaborating with its law enforcement partners, and being a part of multi-disciplinary task forces, to more effectively prosecute perpetrators. We are a member of the San Diego Human Trafficking Task Force (SDHTTF). For more information, visit
  • Collaborating with community service providers to better serve victims of crime.
  • Providing specialized training to DA victim advocates to further the compassionate treatment of victims.
  • Providing training to law enforcement, prosecutors, community partners, nonprofit organizations, medical personnel, students, parents and caregivers.
  • Supporting legislation that holds perpetrators accountable while treating victims with dignity.
  • Promoting Awareness and Prevention through implementation of the Posting Law (SB1193) and engaging in awareness campaigns.
  • Working to bring age-appropriate education to students and educators.

To Get Involved:

THE SAN DIEGO REGIONAL HUMAN TRAFFICKING AND COMMERCIAL SEXUAL EXPLOITATION OF CHILDREN (CSEC) ADVISORY COUNCIL: Consists of 10 different subcommittees: Business, Education, Community, Child and Family Well-Being, Health, Law Enforcement, Prosecution, Research and Data, Survivor Voices, and Survivor Services.


Training for San Diego International Airport employees and those in San Diego County’s tourism industry:

SAN DIEGO HARBOR POLICE FOUNDATION: Access online training videos for hotel employees, airport workers,and those in the food and beverage industry.


SAN DIEGO CHILD AND FAMILY WELL-BEING DEPARTMENT (CFWB): Call 24/7 when you suspect a child/youth is being trafficked.

Contact (800) 344-6000

Mandated reporters must call the Child Abuse Hotline at 1 (800) 344-6000 and local law enforcement to report suspected physical, sexual or emotional abuse, sexual exploitation, or commercial sexual exploitation, or neglect. Additional information can be found at

THE ALABASTER JAR PROJECT: A faith-based nonprofit in North County for women and girls who have been trafficked or sexually exploited. Program includes support services around basic needs, connection to housing, medical, therapy and peer-led support groups. A safe housing program is available for adult women.

Contact (858) 598-3238 or visit

BILATERAL SAFETY CORRIDOR COALITION (BSCC): An alliance of more than 60 government and nonprofit agencies in the United States and Latin America to combat slavery and human trafficking. Services range from emergency response to long-term case management, including housing, mental health, immigration relief and legal advocacy.

Contact (619) 336-0770 office; (619) 666-2757 hotline or visit

GENERATEHOPE: Provides dedicated housing and a comprehensive recovery program, including case management, psychotherapy, education, adjunct therapies and community collaboration for medical, dental, tattoo removal and more for women, ages 18 and up, who have been sexually trafficked.

Contact (619) 344-0344 or visit

THE SALVATION ARMY DOOR OF HOPE: BETTY'S HOUSE: Transitional housing program for four women and their children, who are survivors of human trafficking. Supportive services: case management, goal planning, counseling, parenting and lifeskills classes, food and clothing, pastoral counseling, recovery and women's groups and a computer lab.

Contact (858) 505-3947

CALIFORNIA AGAINST SLAVERY: Has an interactive map listing services in California available to survivors of human trafficking, domestic violence and sexual assault. Partners with the SoCal Safe Shelter Collaborative.

CHILDREN OF THE IMMACULATE HEART: A faith-based non-profit offering housing and rehabilitation services for survivors of sex trafficking. CIH provides housing, case management, therapy, financial help and other services for female adult survivors and their children.

Contact (619) 431-5537 or visit

FREEDOM FROM EXPLOITATION A PEER-DRIVEN RECOVERY PROGRAM: Services are offered to minors and adults victimized by the commercial sex industry and include education and outreach to minors and adults in custody, a First Offenders Program, a transgender support group and participation in the San Diego Sex Trafficking Education and Prevention Program.

Contact (619) 459-4877 or email

NORTH COUNTY LIFELINE PROJECT LIFE: Provides emergency housing and residential coordination, case management, mental health services, peer support and victim outreach and advocacy to men, women and LGBTQ-identifying individuals impacted by CSEC and sex and labor trafficking. Serves all of San Diego County.

Contact (760) 842-6526 or visit

SAN DIEGO YOUTH SERVICES SAFE FAMILY SERVICES (FORMERLY STARS (SURVIVING TOGETHER, ACHIEVING & REACHING FOR SUCCESS)): A program designed for youth ages 12-24 who have experienced the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) and/or domestic human trafficking. Services include case management, support groups, mental health services, Independent Living Skills, detention outreach and community trainings.

Contact (619) 851-2326 or visit

SAN DIEGO YOUTH SERVICES I CARE: Supports youth up to the age of 21 who are at-risk for or victims of commercial sexual exploitation by providing emotional support and promoting healing. Mental Health Clinic provides therapy and psychiatry services. Drop-in Center services include case management, education and employment support, and family and peer support. Services also support caregivers.

Contact (619) 993-8050 or visit

SURVIVORS FOR SOLUTIONS: Empowers exploitation survivors through peer-led services and survivor-informed policies.


FAMILY JUSTICE CENTERS are a safe place for anyone who has experienced child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, hate crime, elder abuse, human trafficking, violent loss, family violence, or other abuse or victimization. Family Justice Centers provide comprehensive help in a safe and judgment-free environment that empowers people to move forward with their lives. There are dozens of community partners on-site to provide help.

1050 Los Vallecitos Blvd, San Marcos, Ca 92069
Hours: 8AM - 8PM Monday- Friday 8AM - 12PM Saturday. Phone: 760-290-3690

Website: Email:

1122 Broadway, 2nd Floor, San Diego, CA 92101 Hours: 8 AM - 4 PM Monday - Friday
Phone: 619-533-6000 Website:

CHADWICK CENTER FOR CHILDREN AND FAMILIES: Medical services and SART exams for minor victims of CSEC. Additional services include forensic interviews and trauma counseling.

Contact (858) 966-5980

LA MAESTRA: The International Human Trafficking Program: serves victims of labor and sex trafficking, of any age, gender and country of origin. The program provides medical, legal and mental health services. Case management includes financial assistance (for international victims only), basic needs, bus passes, food, housing assistance and classes.

Contact 619-564-7010

CASA CORNELIA LAW CENTER: A 501(c)(3) public interest law firm providing pro bono immigration legal services to indigent victims of human and civil rights violations, including trafficking survivors.

Contact (619) 231-7788.

FREE TO THRIVE: Empowers survivors of human trafficking to be free from exploitation and to thrive by providing them with legal services and connections to other supportive services.

Contact (619) 684-0025 or visit

SAN DIEGO COUNTY OFFICE OF EDUCATION: Provides resources and support for children, educators, parents, and caregivers.