Supporting Human Trafficking Prevention in San Diego

“PCI is fighting human trafficking in San Diego by educating children, parents and teachers to identify the signs of exploitation and offer empowerment programs that reduce children’s vulnerability to traffickers. We are honored to work in partnership with local businesses, law enforcement and victim services to fight and prevent this horrific problem.”

– Carrie Hessler-Radelet, President and CEO


Modern slavery and human trafficking happens all over the globe and takes many forms. On any given day, an estimated 40 million people around the world are forced into labor or sexual exploitation, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). The majority of those trafficked are women and girls, and a shocking 26 percent are children.

The United Nations defines human trafficking as people who “are recruited or harbored, by threat or force, to be exploited.” This extortion includes commercial sex or labor exploitation in industries such as hospitality, beauty or agricultural. Despite common belief, a person does not need to be transported anywhere to fall under this definition.

Roughly 24.9 million human trafficking victims are being used for forced labor and 15.4 million are forced into marriage. Globally, 22 percent of human trafficking victims are used for commercial sexual exploitation, which can include prostitution, public or private sex shows, production and distribution of pornography, as well as sex tourism. The ILO estimates that human trafficking and forced labor generates $150 billion worldwide each year.

Multiple studies have found that people recruited for human trafficking come from the most vulnerable populations, including those living in poverty, children in the foster care system, persons with disabilities, runaway youth and those with a history of abuse.

Fighting and Preventing Human Trafficking in San Diego

Human trafficking occurs in cities across the United States, but the FBI ranks San Diego among the top 13 cities for high-intensity prostitution of children. By raking in an annual revenue of $810 million, sex trafficking is one of San Diego’s largest underground economies—second only to drug trafficking. Although it’s difficult to imagine children and adolescents at the center of this atrocious industry, the average age of recruitment for San Diego’s sex trafficking victims is 16 years old. Victims are commonly targeted online, but human trafficking can take place anywhere—in rural, suburban and urban areas, at businesses, hotels, schools, malls, bus stops and other public venues—and often in plain sight.

While vulnerability is a primary cause of human trafficking and exploitation, prevention is a key strategy in ending it. PCI works to address the root causes of commercial sexual exploitation and gender-based violence, especially for women, girls and LGBT+ youth who are particularly vulnerable to exploitation due to inadequate support systems that leave them susceptible to harm. Creating safe spaces for children and adolescents to challenge harmful gender roles and stereotypes and promote gender-equitable relationships is a critical prevention effort

PCI's Girls Only! program

How To Prevent Human Trafficking

Based in San Diego, PCI works to protect children and vulnerable populations from human trafficking with a specific focus on ending the domestic sex trafficking of minors in the U.S. Our organization is addressing human trafficking prevention at local and national levels through multiple programs and partnerships.

Project ROOTS

PCI’s Project ROOTS is an after-school program that addresses the root causes of gender-based violence, exploitation and unhealthy relationships through group mentoring and social-emotional learning. As a primary prevention program, it aims to build resilience in elementary and middle school children through lessons on empathy, equality and empowerment. Project ROOTS facilitators, typically school teachers and counselors, educate groups of 15-20 kids about inclusivity, emotional freedom and mutual respect during 60- to 90-minute group sessions.

Project ROOTS is also an integral part of the San Diego Trafficking Prevention Collective—a multistage educational program that combines early childhood education, participatory theatre and classroom-based curriculum (PROTECT, Project ROOTS, and kNOw MORE) to build awareness for youth, families and communities across all 43 San Diego school districts. The Collective offers creative and comprehensive training to help participants understand the dangers and recognize the human trafficking signs in our schools and neighborhoods.

Employers Ending Exploitation (E3) Alliance

PCI is expanding our human trafficking prevention programming in 2020 with the launch of our Employers Ending Exploitation (E3) Alliance. Local businesses, from both the public and private sectors, will be invited to join E3 as partners committed to combatting sex trafficking in San Diego.

E3 is a multi-tiered program that offers the following three-step approach to sex trafficking education and prevention.


E3 will work hand-in-hand with employers to assess opportunities to reduce risk of sex trafficking within their company culture through employee education. By training, establishing internal reporting protocols, implementing zero-tolerance trafficking human resource policies, as well as instating a company position statement against illicit activity and making a commitment to report, E3 will enhance safety for both staff and customers.


As businesses become increasingly aware of the sex trafficking epidemic in San Diego, E3 will provide opportunities for them to engage with local nonprofits that serve survivors of trafficking. E3 business partners will have the opportunity to engage in activities such as volunteering, hosting fundraisers, delivering in-kind donations, offering pro-bono professional services and providing space for gatherings.


One important goal of San Diego’s anti-human trafficking community is to provide long-term employment opportunities to survivors of trafficking. E3 plans to help willing businesses complete sensitivity and trauma-informed training in order to qualify as a safe survivor employer as well as create paid apprenticeships/internships to support survivors seeking professional development. E3 will help identify businesses that can exercise compassion and confidentiality with the goal of offering secure employment opportunities for survivors with trained supervisors.

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How To Prevent Human Trafficking

PCI’s “Human Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) 101” trainings broaden community awareness of this issue and increase the number of sex and labor trafficking survivors who are identified and rescued. The training builds the capacity of community-based organizations such as clinics, churches and nonprofits to be able to train their staff on how to identify human trafficking victims and refer them to the appropriate resources.

Growing Through Partnerships

Prevention is everyone’s job and PCI could not accomplish this work without close collaboration and partnerships with schools, law enforcement, child welfare services, survivors, government officials, philanthropists, the District Attorney and many more champions from the community.

PCI partners with local organizations to:

  • Provide training and technical assistance to help local stakeholders identify and support youth who are at higher risk of becoming a victim of human trafficking;
  • Co-facilitate anti-trafficking meetings; and
  • Support public awareness and community outreach activities geared toward ending human trafficking in San Diego.

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