SAN DIEGO -- The FBI lists San Diego as one of the 13 highest sex trafficking areas in the country, and experts from all over the world gathered here Saturday for a one-day conference to talk about solutions to the problem.
The Human Trafficking Research Conference, sponsored by the Center for Justice and Reconciliation at Point Loma Nazarene, brought together hundreds of experts on the topic, but none more compelling then those who were trafficked or who trafficked themselves.
"It can happen to anyone, no matter your race, no matter how protective you feel you may be, it can still happen. And so it’s important to know the signs,” said sex trafficking survivor Ebony Jones.
Jones is a victim advocate and motivational speaker who was sexually abused as a young girl, and began selling sex at the age of 18 after being introduced to the trade by someone she knew.
"The misconception is that it only happens to (those in) poverty or low-income (people). No, it happens here.
Just around the corner from here, people are being approached at bus stops, at work, people who want to be models via social media, and they’re using their beauty and their looks against them. And they’re exploiting them," said Jones.
Armand King is the co-founder of Paving Great Futures and a former pimp.
"We did what was around us, selling drugs, being in gangs or being a pimp," King said of his former life.
The former sex trafficker says he’s lucky to be alive and participating in the conference, like Jones.
They are using their experience to help guide and give others resources for moving away from sex trafficking and staying out of the prison pipeline.
"Human sex trafficking or prostitution has been around way before my life, way before my grandfather’s life -- it’s been here. So I don’t know if we’ll ever end it, but we can damn sure help," said King.
According to a recent study. Sex trafficking is San Diego's second largest underground economy after drugs -- an estimated $810 million in annual revenue.
The average age of entry is 15 years old and gangs are often involved.
Trans-border criminal networks are also busy trafficking minors and adults between Mexico and the United States.
“No matter if you are front line (like) politicians, or you’re a teacher or just a mom at home, ... there are kids outside that you can talk to about this issue,” Jones said.