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Latin America
Women & Children at Risk
Title:  Trafficking is Here, Says Group's Leader
Publisher:  (c) 2004 Union Times Tribune
Author: Elena Gaona
Publish Date:  2004-07-21
LibertadLatina note:

We at LibertadLatina congratulate the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition (BSCC) and founder Marisa Ugarte's groundbreaking efforts to end the mass sex trafficking of especially underage Mexican and Central American girls, and other trafficking victims into the Southwest United States.  We sincerely desire that recently increased grant funding to non-profits and to the government law enforcement and services community be effective in saving the lives of these victims.

- Chuck Goolsby


July 21, 2004


See our special section on the decade-old San Diego Child Rape Camps crisis.




Bush Administration Hosts First National Training Conference to Combat Human Trafficking. President Bush Announces $14 Million for Police and Service Agencies, and $4.5 Million in Grants to Non-Profit Advocacy Agencies (including $500,000 to the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition in San Diego) to Assist Trafficking Victims.

At first, no one believed her.

The thought of underage sex slaves forced to operate here seemed too far-fetched, a dark deviation from sunny San Diego County.

Now Marisa Ugarte, executive director of a Mexico and U.S. coalition that fights to prevent human trafficking and slavery, says the word is out.
Marisa Ugarte held up a poster proposed for law enforcement centers designed to bring attention to human trafficking and to stop child prostitution.

National media attention, recent convictions of local men smuggling Mexican women and forcing them into prostitution, visits to outdoor brothels in North County by her group and dozens of community work sessions and presentations have helped convince skeptics that women and children are here against their will and forced to perform sexual acts.

"It's not a Third World problem. It's here in our back yard," Ugarte said of human trafficking during a meeting in City Heights of the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition yesterday.

The group has been tackling human smuggling since 1997.

"I was alone when I started. Now we have a coalition of people working on both sides of the border to stop this," Ugarte said.

The coalition has nearly 70 member organizations in San Diego County and Tijuana working to educate police officers, social workers, health workers and the public about the dangers of the local sex trade and how to prevent more women and children from becoming trapped.

On Monday, the coalition received $500,000 from the U.S. Justice Department to fund other groups fighting the crime. It also got a $10,000 grant from the Bravo Foundation last month for its work and $1 million from the State Department two weeks ago, Ugarte said.

And tomorrow, the group is expanding to North County. A group of leaders will meet for the first time to form a satellite coalition, Ugarte said.

The group will meet at 6 p.m. at California State University San Marcos inside the San Marcos Ambulatory Care Center, at the northwest corner of Twin Oaks Valley Road and Craven Drive.

The meeting is open to the public.

The path to slavery is disturbing: Young women, and some boys, are lured from Latin American and Eastern European countries with the promise of jobs and a life in America.

Instead, they are locked up and trained, first in Mexico and then in this country, to provide sex to dozens of partners a day. After a few years, the children are discarded and left to fend for themselves on the streets. Some are killed.

"In San Diego, we work to alert people that sexual tourism exists," said Ugarte, who described victims as young as toddlers.

"In North County, we want to erase the image that only men have the right to be immigrants. Women and children also have the right to immigration without victimization."

In North County, the women and girls are forced to service farmworkers in hidden outdoor brothels in places like Vista, Oceanside and Encinitas, Ugarte said. Sometimes the word gets out about the brothels, and men from the outside also visit.

After Ugarte spoke to a group of Latino leaders in Escondido during a luncheon sponsored in May by the Bravo Foundation, an Escondido nonprofit that helps other charitable groups, at least 20 people signed up to help.

They will work with North County police departments and other groups to heighten awareness and help rescue victims.

"Look beneath the surface," Ugarte read from a poster to be placed in local law enforcement agencies to remind police officers that prostitutes can be victims.

In the poster, a young girl who has apparently been arrested is in handcuffs. But perhaps she committed a crime against her will, is the message.
"The average age for prostitution is 13," said Russell Dehnel, a coalition member who heads the nonprofit Heartland Human Relations and Fair Housing Association. "This is not a career choice."

The coalition is planning a conference at the end of September, sponsoring a training session for social workers and another for police officers, organizing a speakers bureau and promoting legislation to fight the trafficking.

Some of the money the group received could be used to create a safe house for victims, said coalition member Kathi Hardy, a former prostitute.

"We need a house for girls who are (forced into prostitution)" or taken from state to state against their will, Hardy said, "a place where they can begin to heal."