A sign in the public restroom in an airport
A human trafficking sign in the bathroom at San Jose Mineta International Airport raises awareness and acts as a lifeline to victims. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

A local official wants to put an end to sex trafficking in San Jose.

San Jose Councilmember Bien Doan wants to create a sex trafficking awareness campaign in public restrooms throughout the city. Notices would be posted by bathroom mirrors and in stalls with phone numbers for victims to call or people to report incidents. Similar signs can be found in San Jose Mineta International Airport bathrooms, posted by the South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking.

Sharan Dhanoa, director of South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking, said human trafficking is an unseen part of everyday life — but people aren’t paying attention.

“Traffickers may stay close to their victims, so a bathroom is a place where somebody does have an opportunity to be by themselves. The hope is folks will call in for help,” she told San José Spotlight. “You want people to think there are options outside the exploitation they’re facing. You want folks to be able to push past the fear of accessing help.”

San Jose Councilmember Bien Doan wants to have trafficking awareness signs placed in public restrooms throughout the city. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

Dhanoa said targeted, intentional messaging that resonates with the community is essential. The coalition partnered with the San Jose Police Department to create the airport signs. The San Jose City Council tasked SJPD with raising community awareness as a result of underreporting by the Asian American Pacific Islander community on human trafficking and sexual assault.

The coalition provides services to survivors of human trafficking, raises awareness through community education and provides training to service providers. Its mission is to ensure the protection of victims, prosecution of offenders and prevention of human trafficking and exploitation.

Doan said sex trafficking is modern-day slavery that incorporates wage theft, coercion, oppression and drugs.

“Every single person we can reach out there to help, to save, is worth every penny,” Doan said. “You’re saving somebody’s daughter, mother, grandmother, child, sister, husband or brother.”

For Doan, this is personal. Three years ago, while working as a fire captain with the San Jose Fire Department, a woman involved in sex trafficking reached out to him for help.

“I realized that in the modern world… we have this problem, and we need to stop it,” he told San José Spotlight. “It’s extremely important to me because I have a mother. I have sisters. I have a daughter. I have nieces. If we don’t protect our women and young children, we are at fault.”

According to the coalition’s annual report for 2023, sex trafficking represents 77% of trafficking and more than 60% of sex trafficking victims in the nation are girls, women or female identifying youth of color. Of the 380 individuals served by the coalition who were confirmed or at risk of commercial sex trafficking, 138 were under the age of 18 and 85 were transitional age youth ages 18-25. Of the survivors served, roughly 83% identified as female, 11% as male and 3% as transgender.

San Jose Councilmember Dev Davis agrees with the messaging, but is concerned about the cost with the city looking at a $52.1 million budget shortfall. San Jose Councilmember Pam Foley shares her concern.

“We do have a tough budget coming up,” Foley told San José Spotlight. “Unfortunately, choices have to be made, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways we might be able to implement this… and make it less costly.”

The South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking works to raise public awareness and help victims of human and sex trafficking. Photo courtesy of the South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking.

Foley said an awareness campaign on human and sex trafficking could better educate the community at large.

“It’s another opportunity… to remind us to be observant and also how to report if we see anything,” she said, adding it’s also a lifeline for those at risk.

Doan plans to work with the San Jose Youth Commission on a proposal. Then, it will go to the city manager to determine the cost, and before the Rules and Open Government Committee and City Council for approval.

“That we have zero tolerance for human trafficking and sex trafficking… would help our city to be a better place, a safer place for children and families,” Doan said.

To report human trafficking or ask for help, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected].

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