In San Diego, a Corporate Funder Galvanizes a New Effort to Fight Human Trafficking

90 percent of San Diego’s high schools have identified cases of human trafficking involving their students. photo: antoniodiaz/shutterstock

90 percent of San Diego’s high schools have identified cases of human trafficking involving their students. photo: antoniodiaz/shutterstock

Human trafficking is a big problem worldwide, in the U.S., in California, and in the San Diego school system. The San Diego Trafficking Prevention Collective (SDTPC) is a collaborative effort between public and private sectors to address this devastating issue by educating teachers and youth. The UBS Optimus Foundation recently brought together two dozen funders to back this project with $3 million over three years.

The U.S. Department of State estimates that between 14,000 and 18,000 people are trafficked into the U.S. annually. Within the country, more than 8,500 trafficking cases were identified in 2017 through more than 26,000 calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. California had the most cases of any state every year from 2012 to 2018.

Around the globe, human trafficking generates about $150 billion in profits annually and is estimated to be an $810 million business in San Diego, alone. Along with Los Angeles, it is listed on the FBI’s ranking of the top 13 cities dealing with the most trafficking. And 90 percent of San Diego’s high schools identified cases of human trafficking involving their students.

Funders Take on Trafficking

Out of every 1,000 people in the world, about five are trafficked in modern-day slavery, including through forced sexual activity and labor. Trafficking victims come from all cultures and walks of life. They are young and old and, along with being trafficked for sex, they are enslaved throughout the global supply chain in diverse roles and industries like domestic service, construction, agriculture and restaurants, and factories. And, for trafficking victims who are migrants and/or immigrants in the U.S., the Trump administration's overhaul of immigration policies can make it more difficult to seek or get help. The current DOJ also pared down some of the funding for trafficking survivors, arguably creating a greater need for philanthropic support in this area.

Sally Faiz, head of philanthropic programs at the UBS Optimus Foundation, tells us the most compelling aspect of the new anti-trafficking undertaking is the “partnership among private donors with leadership from the San Diego DA’s office, the involvement of multiple nonprofits and a growing engagement across leaders of all school districts in San Diego County.”

Public and private organizations also came together a few years back to take on trafficking in the U.S. through the Partnership for Freedom (PFF). PFF united several departments of the federal government with funders like Steven Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation, Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women Initiative, Humanity United of the Omidyar Group, the NoVo Foundation, and the Ray and Dagmar Dolby Family Fund. A few other philanthropies that have addressed trafficking and forced labor are Google, the Gates Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Greenbaum Foundation, N2GIVES, New York Women's Foundation, San Diego Women’s Foundation, New York Foundation and Arizona Community Foundation, among others. These funders often back programs in prevention, research and wrap-around support services for liberated survivors.

The UBS Optimus Foundation is the philanthropic arm of the global financial services company UBS AG. It focuses on child welfare around the world in areas like sexual abuse, maternal and infant mortality rates, child care, emergency response and more, so the school-focused SDTPC is within its established wheelhouse. UBS gave $500,000 to the new anti-trafficking program, while the 20-plus other funders donated a total of $2.5 million. Faiz says most of the philanthropists involved are UBS clients who prefer anonymity, but the lead funders are Mike and Karen Stone. As we’ve reported, it’s not uncommon for donors to this cause to remain anonymous.

How Can Schools Address Trafficking?

About a quarter of trafficking victims around the world are children, and it is common for traffickers to target youth around schools. The average age for children to be sexually exploited by traffickers is 16 years old, and they are often approached as young as age 11. In the last few years, California passed several laws that make various forms of anti-sex trafficking education mandatory in schools. The new trafficking prevention collective brings together diverse stakeholders to help local schools fulfill these commitments and expand this type of programming.

Through the SDTPC, three nonprofits will offer online and in-person training and educational materials on in-school prevention and after-school intervention, along with drama-based interactive exercises. These programs and curricula are designed for teachers, kids from the fifth grade up and their families. The learning experiences focus on recognizing children at risk, connecting students to resources, firming up related protocols and procedures, understanding the root causes of gender-based violence, social-emotional learning, and other topics. They aim to train more than 9,000 teachers and reach more than 250,000 students.

“Teachers are essential partners in stopping trafficking because they care about children,” Faiz says. She points out they also have “established trust with children” and, as experienced educators, are well suited to teach them to avoid victimization.

“Teachers are in the field with kids every day and are the ones most likely to notice changes objectively in a child’s attention, behavior, clothing, cellphone usage and so on. In other words, they can see the red flags when they know what to look for,” she explains.

According to the San Diego County district attorney's office, other possible signs of youth trafficking include drug use, truancy, running away, and weight loss or injury, among others.