When the charitable arm of UBS launched a $3 million campaign this year to combat human sex trafficking in California, it found that it had to dispel a lot of myths about the problem.

Chief among them was the perception that human trafficking is a problem consisting of young women being forcibly abducted—in other countries.

"People often refer to the movie 'Taken,' where someone is abducted from their bedroom," said Nicole Sebastian, a strategist with the family advisory and philanthropy services group at UBS Financial Services.

While such abductions do happen, the reality is that human sex traffickers operate much more subtly, often approaching their young targets in a friendly manner and then "grooming" them over time before coercing them into the illicit sex trade industry. Moreover, the problem is prevalent in the U.S., with studies indicating 400,000 people—80 percent of them naturally born U.S. citizens—have fallen victim to sex trafficking in the nation.

Many times, children fall victim to human sex trafficking without family, friends and teachers even knowing about it, Sebastian said.

The problem is so pervasive in San Diego that a survey of 20 high schools in 2016 found that all of them had a problem with traffickers trying to recruit their students.

"Children who are trafficked could still be showing up in the classroom," she said.

The prevention and education campaign launched by the UBS Optimus Foundation is centered on the schools of California's San Diego County, which the FBI recently identified as among the 13 regions in the nation with the highest incidences of child sexual exploitation.

The $3 million grant—UBS donated $500,000 and the rest was donated by individuals and family foundations that are clients of the company—will pay for a three-year effort, in collaboration with non-profit groups and law enforcement authorities, to educate children, parents, teachers and school staff about the warning signs to look for when a child is being trafficked, and what to do if a possible victim is identified, according to Optimus CEO Phyllis Costanza.

The program is expected to involve 250,000 students in the county, where, according to a 2016 study of sex trafficking in San Diego by professors at the University of San Diego and Point Loma Nazarene University, the illegal activity was a $810 million industry in 2013, with about 3,500 victims per year. The same study identified criminal gang organizations as the main source of the criminal activity. It also noted that the average age of victims is about 16.

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