Marisa B. Ugarte: Fighting for Dignity

April 14, 2017

By Mario A. Cortez

For over 25 years, Marisa B. Ugarte has been involved in the struggle to find dignity for some of the most vulnerable people in our region.

“Human trafficking is modern-day slavery, and it is not just women who are the victims, there are also men and children involved,” said Ugarte. “The biggest problem is understanding that human trafficking isn’t limited to sex work, but also hard labor in domestic services, restaurants,massage parlors, and construction.”

Today Ugarte serves as Executive Director of the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition (BSCC), a nonprofit organization which she established to prevent and eradicate human trafficking through intervention and support for victims of this practice.

BSCC began operating in 1997 as a team of volunteers. This volunteer group was officially incorporated in 2002 and since then carries the mission of living in a world where there is no exploitation and where men, women, and children’s lives are protected and held in high esteem.

“We in BSCC want people be free from victimization. We seek to have a transition model until we take a step to seek reintegration into society of these survivors of trafficking,” said Ugarte.

Despite founding BSCC in 1997, Ugarte had worked with people in precarious situations and victims of crimes such as domestic violence years before.

Shortly after arriving in Tijuana from her native Mexico City, Ugarte began working in the Tijuana sector of Mexico’s Integral System of Family Development (DIF, in Spanish) as an internal consultant.

“We created several programs within DIF,” said Ugarte. “We started a program for unaccompanied children traveling to the border, founded programs for street children, founded the Domestic Violence Home Line, which still operates 24 hours a day, where someone could call if they are in danger.”

Eventually, Ugarte moved north of the border and began to work in San Diego County.

“I was offered a position with The Eye Crisis and Counseling Center in Escondido managing crisis intervention,” Ugarte recalled. “I was given the management of minors. Then I started my own organization because The Eye Crisis and Counseling Center closed down.”

Since then, Ugarte has led BSCC and has faced the challenges that an organization of this type comes across.

Through case management, outreach to the community, emergency housing and transitional housing for victims readapting to regular life, and a hotline to report trafficking, BSCC operates in several ways to reduce trafficking and the suffering of those who fall into exploitation networks.

Ugarte also seeks to provide more services to the community through BSCC.

“We are creating a partnership with libraries since you can find minors there who may be in a vulnerable situation,” Ugarte said. “We also want expand our assistance to victims of hate crimes because they can find themselves in lack of help at times.”
“The most ambitious project is to create more emergency and transitional homes. We have a great partnership with the police to rescue the victims, but space is insufficient and it is always necessary to seek more room for those who need help getting out of this cycle of exploitation,” Ugarte continued.

A challenge that threatens the existence of this organization is insecure funds for its operations. As a nonprofit organization, BSCC needs the support of government agencies and the community to continue the fight against trafficking and to support those who have been victims of these practices.

“It is important that the public helps us,” Ugarte said. “Monetary donations can be tax deductible. We also need vouchers or gift cards for discount supermarkets such as Food 4 Less or Grocery Outlet,” Ugarte said. “Even the most needed clothes are not sweaters or shirts; our victims sometimes do not even have their own underwear. With a $25 Target gift  donation, victims can buy two changes of underwear.”

Ugarte’s work has improved the quality of life for hundreds of people. However her struggle against human trafficking cannot stop.

“We have helped around 800 people since 2005, but this issue is not going to go away and can only get worse,” said Ugarte. “If we do not take the problem of sexual exploitation and related crimes seriously then we are losing time, and many may lose their lives.”

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