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48 arrests, 8 children rescued in sex trafficking operation in San Diego

'Operation Better Pathways' focused on prostitution hot spots in San Diego and National City.

SAN DIEGO — Local, state and federal authorities announced Tuesday they've arrested 48 people and rescued 8 children during an operation aimed at combating human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

'Operation Better Pathways' launched in January.

"The youngest victim rescued during this operation was 13 years old," said SDPD Chief David Nisleit."She was seen walking the street and waiting for someone to pick her up and buy sex from her. Officers rescued her and she was reunited with her family."

The 41 victims also include two teenage runaways from Arizona, and a pregnant 21-year-old who was forced to sell her body for sex.

"This operation significantly disrupted but did not eliminate human trafficking. This will be a daily fight," said San Diego County District Attorney, Summer Stephan.

"This is a heinous crime, with devastating consequences. traffickers prey on the most vulnerable," added Randy Grossman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California.

Chief Nisleit said two of the hot spots authorities focused on were Roosevelt Avenue in National City and Dalbergia Street in San Diego.

CBS 8 has done numerous stories on Dalbergia Street regarding prostitution.

"Human trafficking and sexual exploitation destroy lives," said Attorney General Rob Bonta. "Through Operation Better Pathways we're fighting to hold perpetrators accountable and help survivors get a fresh start."

Attorney General Bonta was asked several questions regarding SB 357, a new law that took effect in January. It prevents officers from arresting someone for loitering with the purpose of engaging in prostitution. Supporters of the law say it helps reduce harassment and discrimination against transgender and minority communities. However, Chief Nisleit said it makes it harder for officers to arrest people for human trafficking.

"What you're seeing is sex traffickers are working with impunity, we're seeing victims of a young age having their lives destroyed. Our ability to address this is difficult," he said.

National City police chief, Jose Diaz, agrees and says, "the law has restricted police from taking action and by doing so has negatively impacted the quality of life for residents and business owners in national city."

He also said he will be formally asking state legislators to repeal SB 357.

"How many more victims do we need to have in sex trafficking before we realize that this is not a good law," he added.

Attorney General Bonta said he is open to discussion about this law. He said he wants to see data regarding this law before moving forward.

Marisa Ugarte, founder of the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition, worked with the human trafficking task force in the operation. For more than two decades her organization has worked to prevent human trafficking and help the victims.

"It's prevention, protection and persecution. We do victim, survivor, thriver. We get people as victims, make them survivors and get them thriving," she said.

Ugarte said they connect victims with housing, counseling, opportunities to get an education and jobs. Lifeline Community Services Project Life works with human trafficking victims as well.

"We do a lot of that crisis intervention and helping them get to safe rooms and find a way to leave the life," said Don Stump, the CEO of Lifeline Community Services.

In recent years they've seen an upward trend in children being recruited. 

"Now it's on the internet. Parents are working and they're unsupervised. That's how you get eight girls out there. Those are the ones you identified. What about the ones you don't?" Ugarte said.

Lifeline Community Services has watched the number of children rescued from trafficking grow each year with 28 rescued in 2021 and 36 last year.

Advocates said this operation shows the success that comes when our local agencies and organizations work together and it is also a reminder that the fight against human trafficking is ongoing. 

WATCH RELATED: 48 arrests, 8 children rescued in sex trafficking operation in San Diego 


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