As part of GiRL FeST San Diego, a lecture and panel discussion was hosted at San Diego State Friday titled “War on Women: Human Trafficking in the U.S.” GiRL FeST is a nonprofit festival with the purpose of “changing peer culture in order to prevent increasing violence against women and girls through education, art and positive representations of women.”
The event began with a talk from sex trafficking survivor and former SDSU student Natasha Herzig, who gave an intense account of her abduction and time spent in the underground world of sex trafficking.
Herzig was coerced into the situation when a woman stopped her at the mall and told her of an opportunity to train to become a makeup artist. After meeting the woman and the company’s “boss,” she agreed to the job and at a meeting to file paperwork, she was physically taken and thrown into a car. She then began her two-year journey into forced prostitution.
In 2003, the FBI released a list of 13 high-intensity child sex trafficking cities that included San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The event also included a panel discussion focused on what changes need to occur. When asked if the media has a role in allowing these atrocities to happen, Managing Editor of 10News San Diego, JW August said, “The images people see make a very nasty thing acceptable.”
“We have begun to normalize what isn’t normal,” Executive Director of Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition Marisa Ugarte said.
All panelists referenced music with lyrics commonly containing phrases such as “pimp” and “ho.” They also noted the glamorization of the prostitute, as seen in films such as
“Pretty Woman,” when in reality “girls don’t ever see a penny,” Herzig said.
The panelists spoke about another complex issue regarding criminalizing sex traffickers. “The biggest problem with victims is that they’re lousy witnesses because they’ve been so traumatized,” August said.
Herzig expanded on August’s statement. After being trafficked for two years, she and two other girls working as prostitutes were taken into the police department. A “new girl” told them everything. Herzig was silent, and the girl with the most seniority in the prostitution ring fabricated a story to protect her and her trafficker.
“It’s hard first to be a victim, then to be a victim of sex trafficking … Let’s get to the point where we don’t have to arrest these kids in order to rescue them,” Herzig said.
While it is a sensitive subject, awareness is key in preventing the continuance of these crimes. Herzig encapsulated the event’s message by saying, “If we’re not talking about the issue, we’re not solving it.”