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Study of Human Trafficking in San Diego

The groundbreaking study, "Measuring the Nature and Extent of Gang Involvement in Sex Trafficking in San Diego," focused on one of the most understudied aspects of human trafficking in the United States: the role of gangs in sex trafficking.

Data was collected from nearly 1,200 individuals — 154 gang-affiliated persons and/or traffickers, 702 first-time prostitution offenders, 140 survivors from eight victim services programs and 141 county school administrators and staff — making it one of the largest, most comprehensive human trafficking case studies in the United States to date. The study is a large-scale model of collaborative research to impact policy and practice, and serves as a national model for future research on human trafficking more broadly.

See Full Human Trafficking Study Report (PDF)

Human Trafficking Legislative Recommendation (PDF)

  • Human trafficking

    is San Diego's 2nd largest underground economy after drug trafficking.
  • $810 Million underground sex economy estimated revenue

  • 3,417-8,108 victims/survivors per year, of whom 1,766 came into contact with law enforcement

  • ~110 gangs involved in commercial exploitation of people (CSEP)
  • 80% pimps/sex trafficking facilitators interviewed were involved in gangs

  • Pimps/sex trafficking facilitators are about evenly split between White, African American and Hispanic individuals.

  • 16 yrs average age of entry into child commercial sexual exploitation (CSEC)
  • 4.5 average number of victim/survivors controlled by sex trafficking facilitators

  • 50%
    of adults arrested for prostitution actually meet the federal definition for classification as victims of human trafficking, but are unidentified or misidentified within the criminal justice system.

  • The average victim is trafficked for about three years before reaching the attention of law enforcement.
  • African American street gangs use social media (Facebook, Twitter) to recruit and pimp out women and girls, whereas Latino gangs do not.

  • Domestic trafficking accounts for the majority of CSEP (80%) in San Diego County


  • Transborder criminal networks are involved in trafficking minors and adults between Mexico and the United States
  • 11% victims come from Mexico
  • >10% victims born in 11 other countries

  • Female recruiters and pimps/sex trafficking facilitators are perceived to be a significant and growing feature of the underground sex economy
  • Significant CSEC recruitment is happening on high school and middle school campuses.

The study, funded by the National Institute of Justice, was led by Principal Investigator Ami Carpenter, PhD, and conducted in close collaboration with Jamie Gates, PhD, at Point Loma Nazarene University. The National Institute of Justice, the Research, Development and Evaluation Agency of the U.S. Department of Justice, has been a leader in the United States in funding and commissioning research on trafficking issues. This project was supported by Award No. 2012-R2-CX-0028, awarded by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this study are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Justice. In addition, members of the San Diego County Human Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Advisory Council supported the study.

Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies

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