Over the course of the two-hour meeting, the telephone rang no less than 30 times. No one picked up, but the message was clear: San Diego has a problem.
The callers—many of whom were just starting their workday—were trying to solicit sex from a minor. For Marjorie Saylor, a survivor-turned-advocate, the sound was a sobering reminder.
“Most everyone in the room already understood the issue, but something about those calls just sunk in,” said Saylor, who ran away from an abusive home when she was 15 years old, found herself a victim of commercial sexual exploitation at 21 and was eventually trafficked by age 23. She is now president of the Survivor Leader Network of San Diego, which focuses on victim advocacy and raising community awareness about human trafficking. “This is reality. This is really happening. And it’s happening at a rate we can’t take lightly or ignore.”
Saylor was among more than 20 community leaders who gathered last fall to learn about the San Diego Business Alliance Against Trafficking—a new coalition formed by PCI to put the city’s second largest underground economy out of business. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, San Diego ranks among the top areas for the prostitution of children in the United States. As an industry, illegal commercial sex rakes in more than $810 million a year in San Diego County.
To illustrate the demand to those in attendance, PCI placed a decoy ad on a website known for advertising the sex trafficking of minors. The first call came in just after 9 a.m.
“People are always shocked to learn this is happening on a typical workday, in the morning, and often on company resources,” said Bianca Morales-Egan, PCI’s technical advisor on human trafficking and gender equity. “But we’re not here for the shock value. We want to raise awareness among business leaders and community members and show them how they can be part of the solution.”
In addition to engaging local employers and corporations around anti-trafficking policies and best practices, PCI also focuses on youth empowerment and prevention programming. Historically, our organization’s efforts in this arena have been geared toward girls ages 8-15 but a boys’ curriculum is set to launch this year as well.
“Looking at the statistics, where the vast majority of sex buyers are male, we cannot deny the fact that sex trafficking is a gendered issue and a form of gender-based violence,” Morales-Egan said. “So, unless we start to talk to men and boys about it, we will never get to the root of the problem.”
Saylor, who has been a part of prevention and post-trauma support efforts in San Diego, agrees that a comprehensive approach to human sex trafficking is the only way to see continued progress. She said this includes being more mindful of how survivors’ perspectives are viewed, valued and used in the movement.
“Telling my story has been part of my healing journey, but that’s not where my story ends,” Saylor said. “What I find most rewarding in everything I do right now is the look I see on a survivor’s face when she gets it. When she realizes she has potential, and she realizes she has other options.”
To learn more about PCI’s anti-trafficking efforts, visit www.pciglobal.org/human-trafficking.