More than 100 people filled the Fermanian Business Center, patio, hallways, and the floor to hear San Diego Youth Services STARS staff and recovering sex trafficking victims for the first Brewed Awakening of the year.
PLNU, SDSU, and USD students and faculty, community members and church groups gathered for a presentation by Michelle Atkins, the main speaker and representative from STARS program (Surviving Together, Achieving and Reaching for Success).
Discussion included the details of the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) in San Diego and promotion of the on-campus group “Beauty For Ashes” that works against human trafficking.
Although questioning the survivors and documenting their stories was not permitted, Jamie Gates, director for Justice and Reconciliation and sociology professor at PLNU provided insight on the evening’s events.
“We’re bringing to light a reality that’s been hidden for too long but it’s a delicate series of issues, so we want to move forward with the greatest wisdom and with patient urgency,” said Gates.
Gates said the first step is to “pause and get educated.” According to Atkins’ presentation, the average age of entry into pornography and CSEC in the U.S. is 12-years-old. Additionally, 20-30 percent of trafficking happens by their own families who either sell them or who are already in CSEC.
Atkins focused the discussion on the transition from a good relationship in the girls’ eyes into the sex trafficking realm. She said to fix this issue of sex trafficking means holding the right person responsible, which often isn’t the girl charged with prostitution and placed in juvenile hall. It also means changing our characterization of these women.
“We never use the word prostitute; that puts the blame on these girls and not the ones it truly falls on [pimps],” said Atkins.
The STARS program helps girls cope with their trauma and provides services for them immediately upon their arrival. One service they provide has a photographer come in and take photos of their hands with things written on them that they couldn’t say before, like “I am not a prostitute.”
Seduction and befriending are recruitment tactics used to get young girls into CSEC. Specific tactics by pimps include making the girl feel like she’s in a “family,” telling her she’s beautiful and that he loves her, and buying her expensive things.
A survivor of CSEC spoke, showed and described her vision board that she had created of her past, present and future.
“Don’t try to fix it, just be there,” said the survivor.
Atkins explained that something that is lacking is a support group for men and pimps because information and insight from the male point of view is missing.
“Our young men need to learn about this issue and discuss it in order to prevent it,” said Atkins.
Tyler Maskiewicz, a sophomore at PLNU and first-timer to Brewed Awakening events, said that now he is better informed about these issues and can instigate a conversation. Maskiewicz described the event as, “relevant, real and empowering.”
Michelle, an alumni and neighbor of PLNU who asked that her last name not be used, has been coming to these events for two years and says that finally this issue has been localized.
“Hearing the survivors was so powerful; it put a face to the statistics that I wasn’t able to have yet,” said Michelle.
Atkins ended her presentation asking the audience to report suspicious activity, spread the information learned here, seek representatives in government and donate to a non-profit (time, skills, services, money).
“Human trafficking is not something that happens only in foreign countries, it is happening right here in San Diego, our city,” said Michelle.