By Andrea Lopez-Villafaña
A collaborative court program is addressing the needs of young individuals who are at higher risk of becoming victims of human trafficking, more specifically, sexual exploitation in San Diego.
The RISE Court program, which stands for Resiliency is Strength and Empowerment, is a voluntary program that aims to help juveniles in the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court.
District Attorney Summer Stephan announced the program Friday, June 1, as a collaborative court program that “uses a multi-disciplinary approach to address the needs of youth who are victims or are at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation.”
The program includes a team of professionals who are trained to meet the individualized needs of minors considered suitable for the program, according to a press release by the District Attorney’s Office.
The program currently has 17 female participants.
“This program gives us a chance to show youth that we will not fail them when they find themselves in some of their most vulnerable moments,” Stephan said the release. “RISE Court gives us a chance to reach juveniles before they are trapped in sexual exploitation into adulthood, making it easier for them to get out.”
The court program involves a trained team that uses trauma-focused therapy, intensive support, and individualized services to empower victims, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
“Youth who have been exploited need our collective support to address the physical, emotional and psychological trauma they have experienced,” Alfredo Aguirre, County Behavioral Health Services director, said in the release. “Getting the right services to the youth is empowering and healing.”
Human trafficking, which includes sexual exploitation and forced labor, is the second largest underground economy in San Diego, after drug trafficking.
According to a study by the University of San Diego, the average age of entry into child commercial sexual exploitation is 16.
The program is a result of a collaborative effort among partners including the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, the San diego Superior Court, the Probation Department, the Public Defender’s Office, the Health and Human Services Agency, Behavioral Health Services, San Diego Youth Services and North County Lifeline.