REGION: Two safe houses open for sex trafficking victims

Shelters to help women in their long road to recovery

Women in need of shelter and protection after being rescued from forced prostitution now have two more safe houses in the region, one of which is the first in North County, advocates for the victims said.

Advocates for victims of sex trafficking said the new houses are desperately needed in the region, where women and girls are brought from other parts of the country —- and the world —- to be used in the sex trade.

The North County safe house is nearly ready to serve victims, advocates said.

It is being sponsored by several organizations, including the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition, the Vista Soroptimist Club and other volunteers.

Another safe house opened in San Diego earlier this month and is being run by Generate Hope, a new nonprofit that provides long-term recovery services for victims of sexual exploitation.

“I think it’s wonderful,” said Marisa Ugarte, director of the nonprofit National City-based Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition, which rescues victims of sex trafficking.

The coalition also helps run a safe house in South Bay, Ugarte said.

But North County has long been recognized by victims advocates and law enforcement as the hub for sex trafficking.

When women are rescued from a prostitution ring, there are few shelters specifically designed to meet their needs, advocates said.

“These women are brainwashed by their pimps,” Ugarte said. “They are traumatized and filled with fear so that they will not testify against them.”

Victims often are torn from their families and taken to unfamiliar places to serve as prostitutes.

Some are young women and girls brought from other countries, such as Mexico, to work in migrant camps.

In one such case, Adrian Zitlalpopoca, a Mexican man, was found guilty in January of smuggling two women from Mexico to Vista to work as prostitutes in North County migrant camps.

In another case, local teens reportedly were used by criminal gangs to work the streets of North County.

Ten documented Oceanside gang members were indicted in federal court last year on charges related to pimping three teenage females.

Recovery can be a difficult process, said Holly Hepburn, director of program development for Generate Hope.

“These girls have gone through so much, and it takes them years to go through the recovery process,” she said.

Generate Hope’s safe house in San Diego has three victims living in the facility, Hepburn said.

The organization has three other women participating in its long-term recovery program, she said.

The program, funded largely through public donations, offers education, job training, life-skills training, individual and group therapy, recreational activities and other support services.

In North County, the Vista Soroptimist Club has long worked to raise awareness of the sex trafficking problem.

Club president Catherine Manis said she became aware of the problem when she was executive director of the Vista Townsite Community Partnership.

When she became president of the Vista Soroptimists in 2005, Manis said, she decided to use the organization to shed light on the problem.

She organized town hall meetings and presentations on human trafficking and sex slavery.

Subsequent club presidents continued the group’s focus on the topic, Manis said.

A donor recently stepped forward to provide a home that would serve as a safe house.

With the help of the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition and two Catholic nuns, they decided to open the shelter.

The two nuns, Sisters Jean Schafer and Sheila Novak, are making final preparations at the house, whose location was not revealed to protect the future residents.

It will house four to six victims at a time, the nuns said.

Schafer and Novak previously operated the Hope House, a safe house, for the California Central Coast Coalition to Stop Enslavement, an anti-human-trafficking organization in Santa Cruz County.

For more information, visit the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition’s Web site at or Generate Hope at



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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. nice blog was interesting to read.
    just keep going.


    miss fee

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