“We’ve seen a huge influx in human trafficking cases,” mentioned Debra Rush, a survivor. “It’s scary.”
Rush based Fresno-based non-profit, Breaking the Chains, after being trafficked herself again in 1989. She was offered by her mom, a long-time heroin addict.
“I was solicited for a large drug debt that my mother owed,” Rush mentioned. “I was trafficked violently for 10 months.”
Rush was rescued in 1999 by police. Her story of survival would not cease there.
After her captivity, Rush devoted her life to serving to victims of human trafficking. Over the previous 30 years, she’s seen firsthand how a lot simpler it’s for victims to be lured in. In her eyes, the pandemic solely magnified that vulnerability.
At first of the pandemic, her group obtained roughly two to a few requires assist per week. By July 2021, requires service have extra than tripled to fifteen to twenty calls per week.
“A lot of these clients are still highly brainwashed,” Rush mentioned. “They’re not necessarily ready to deal with law enforcement.”
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FBI Particular Agent Dan Costin oversees the San Francisco Violent Crimes in opposition to Youngsters and Human Trafficking squad for the Bay Area.
“What changes have you noticed over the past year?” ABC7’s Stephanie Sierra requested.
“We’ve seen an uptick in victimization of children,” mentioned Costin. “Very vulnerable to people grooming them online, they even find themselves being victims of extortion, being asked for additional images or to meet up.”
Particular Agent Costin says he believes the rise stems from impacts of the pandemic.
“The amount of time that kids have spent online this year and a half, constantly being in front of the screen and being in environments where they can be easily contacted,” he mentioned. “It’s all through social media apps, video games, and phone applications.”
The Mayor’s taskforce on Anti-Human Trafficking compiled a report in 2017 indicating there have been at the very least 307 victims reported by extra than a dozen businesses throughout San Francisco. Huckleberry Youth Program reported essentially the most in 2017, a complete of 79 victims. In 2020, that number dropped to 37.
Govt Director Doug Types instructed the I-Crew the decline is not indicating there are fewer victims, however moderately exposes the challenges to attach with them on the streets.
“The hard part is our initial numbers may have dropped, but we don’t believe that means there’s less people that need help,” mentioned Types.
A number of anti-human trafficking businesses in San Francisco are already reporting an uptick in requires service – particularly involved concerning the elevated use of on-line purposes like, Kik Messenger, which do not have parental controls.
“It’s hard to pin point any specific app that’s the worst,” mentioned Costin. “Predators are using them all, from social media to any popular game.”
Rush instructed the I-Crew she lately helped a number of victims lured by the favored gaming app, Fortnite.
“We had two male victims that were lured out of state over the game Fortnite,” Rush mentioned. “Basically what you had happened was a pedophile trafficker who built a relationship with these boys online and then lured them out.”
One of the challenges the Mayor’s taskforce highlighted is the shortage of accountability for traffickers.
A report launched a number of years in the past disclosed there have been 57 human trafficking instances investigated in San Francisco in 2017 — much less than half of these instances resulted in arrests. In line with the taskforce, solely two folks had been charged and three different folks had been convicted. The ABC7 I-Crew requested up to date figures from the San Francisco County District Lawyer’s workplace, however are nonetheless ready to listen to again.