Across the bridge, there are zip codes that are infiltrated by child sex trafficking gangs. An estimated $810 million industry, sex trafficking is the second largest underground economy in San Diego, right after the buying and selling of illegal drugs. Sexual exploitation of children in San Diego is the 13th highest in the nation.
These statistics and ones that follow can be found in: “The Nature and Extent of Gang Involvement in Sex Trafficking in San Diego County” by Ami Carpenter, Ph.D., University of San Diego, and Jamie Gates, Ph.D., Point Loma Nazarene University (2016). The report was submitted to the United States Department of Justice in January 2016. (additional info)
The average age of recruitment is fifteen. Perhaps we can remember what it was like to be fifteen. This is same age as many of our daughters doing their homework or our neighbors biking to school each morning. Only 20% of these girls (and to some extent, boys) are immigrants, the other 80% are children born in the United States. More girls are of Caucasian descent than any other ethnicity.
As grim as these statistics are, it is hard to know what to do. But what if being accepting and accommodating could help heal part of this scourge? What if Coronado, just by being Coronado, could provide a little balm on this gashing wound? It would take a willingness to learn and an open heart.
What if a grand Coronado home, donated by a Coronado philanthropist, could be the next step for these women after they have already been immersed in rescue and care for over a year?
Dan DeSaegher is the Executive Director of GenerateHope, which has been associated with this possibility. As stated on their website, GenerateHope “provides a safe place for survivors of sex trafficking to be restored through long-term housing, healing, psychotherapy and education.” Dan acknowledged the rumor of such a place in Coronado and said he is committed to “100% privacy for the donor and the young women they serve, but 100% transparency to the Coronado community.”
As part of that transparency, he and Susan Munsey, Director of Services, invited me to a GenerateHope sanctuary to learn what the first year or so looks like for women who have been rescued. Ms. Munsey founded GenerateHope eight years ago.
I drove up to a beautiful white-washed home with a picket fence and a swimming pool. There were hardwood floors in the family room that was lined with comfortable, well-worn sofas. The San Diego County 10 bedroom home once served as a boys’ orphanage.
Today, six women and two “house mothers” live there. Low numbers of girls paired with two mothers is a fundamental part of the GenerateHope model.
The young women come from many different kinds of backgrounds. Some of the girls lived in a multitude of foster care situations, some have experienced long-term homelessness, some have lived in make-shift brothels throughout their teens. Some have mothers who are still in their lives; GenerateHope holds family reunification as an important goal.
DeSaegher explained: “Most all trafficked women were abused as children, which is a major factor on their later vulnerability to traffickers. The most common teen entry is fraud (promises of money, modeling fame) and “boyfriending” (false love/trust to manipulate and groom her into drugs or shameful acts, using shame and threats to speed separation from friends/family). It’s tough to characterize just one childhood experience… it can actually happen rather fast in their 20s too. We get all backgrounds at GenerateHope, but the starting point with us is almost always the same…. trauma, PTSD, fear/trust issues, and little personal belief in a true restart to life.”
Whatever their childhood trauma, they have the same hopes and dreams as our own daughters. Whatever their background, strong care at GenerateHope can allow trust in others to slowly return.
Upstairs at GenerateHope each of young women has their own small bedroom. After a childhood of not having the basic privacy of their own body, where beds brought violence and shame, to have their own bedroom is a salve in itself.
There is a one-room school run by a credentialed teacher, as “the life” (as sex trafficking is euphemistically called) interferes with any meaningful education; something we insist on for our own children. The classroom has three computers and it is the only place that computer use is allowed. No cell phones are allowed on the property.
GenerateHope is faith-based, but not religion specific. The girls go to church each Sunday because everyone is going, but there are no requirements about belief. There is a daily devotion in the morning. A passage might come from a Bible verse, but it might also come from another source of wisdom literature.
Being clean and sober for a significant amount of time is necessary for the holistic care offered by GenerateHope. But given that creating an addiction is one way pimps enslave these girls, some have already been out of “the life” for a while and in rehabilitation facilities before they even arrive at GenerateHope.
Once in the care of GenerateHope, they receive hours of personal and group therapy for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), they endure the year-long process it takes to remove the name or bar code tattoos that pimps have branded them with, and they receive medical and dental care.
After they have had this year, or more, long care at a San Diego home, what if they took the next step, as they were about to launch into self-sufficiency, and found sanctuary in a Coronado home?
This would be eight people in a large home with a large garden – comparable to a home of two disciplined and modest parents and six daughters. There would not be a multitude of cars on our streets; there would be no parties, no late nights, no alcohol or worse.
We know there are folks in town struggling with addiction, families struggling with domestic issues, and neighbors on a financial tightrope. These young women would be in better shape.
Our police and volunteer patrol would be fully aware and place them in their care as they place the rest of Coronado residents in their care. Summer rentals can cause more disruption.
There is little to no-concern that the pimps would try and find these women. The harsh reality is that it is not worth the pimp’s money and time to try and track down a 20-year-old woman, who has been off the streets for a couple of years, in an unknown location, and who has had years of therapy to heal her. Not when he can, unfortunately, go find another naive, vulnerable 14 or 15-year-old.
This Coronado home will be affirmation to these women of what is beautiful in the world, and an acknowledgement of their inherent value and worth. As Americans, we know that one of the basic principles of a democracy is an acknowledgement of the worth of an individual. Their sense of worth and their innocence was stripped from them as children, it seems we can give them a little bit of Coronado magic for a year or two.
Coronado is a unique, safe small-town community. We have much to offer. There may be residents who would like to tutor, or mentor, or offer employment.
Clean, sober, absent of offensive tattoos, we won’t even know who these women are as they grab a latte in town, put down a blanket and a picnic at Concert in the Park, or rise-up, with their hand on their heart, as a military band marches by on the Fourth of July.
If a Coronado home was designated to help shelter former sex trafficked women, would the community be behind it?
Soroptimist International of Coronado is screening a short twenty-minute film on this subject, followed by a discussion with a panel of experts, today, January 22 at 2:00pm in the CoSA auditorium. If you are interested in a refuge in Coronado, or you would like to help in some way, your first step should be to go see this film.