Group accuses UCSD of helping sex traffickers

    Due to UCSD campus counsel requests, administrators of a Web hosting company on Oct. 19 shut down a site alleging that the UCSD Medical Center had neglected to report the sexual abuse of underage Mexican girls.

    According to Campus Counsel Ann Parode, she had sent a letter to the Web site operator of http://www.loscristeros.org, threatening legal action unless the UCSD Department of Pediatrics’ logo was removed from the site’s masthead.

    “Under California Education Code 92000, it is a misdemeanor to use the UCSD abbreviation, without the Regents’ consent, to designate another organization or to imply the university’s affiliation with yours,” Parode told Los Cristeros in the letter. “Your use of the UCSD Department of Pediatrics banner in the masthead of your Web site violates [the statute] and we request that you immediately cease this activity by removing that banner from it.”

    Web hosts subsequently shut down the site, but restored it after Web site creator and Los Cristeros director Joaquin Santiago conferred with the company.

    The nonprofit group opposes exploitation of Mexican immigrants and uses its Web site to publicize alleged abuses.

    According to Santiago, he had taken down all logos from his masthead a week before, after receiving similar requests from other organizations included on the page — such as the San Ysidro Health Clinic — and does not plan to display any more UCSD emblems.

    The San Ysidro Health Center and the UCSD Center for Community Health Division of Pediatrics are currently collaborating on the Southern California Border HIV/AIDS Project, a program federally funded by the Health Resource Services Administration.

    Santiago’s Web site claims that the project’s health workers have contact with sexually abused adolescent girls and do not report the crimes.

    The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act mandates that citizens report the sexual abuse of minors.

    “It’s a grave moral error on their [health workers’] part,” Santiago said. “What we want to see is that the people responsible be held responsible.”

    UCSD Medical Center denies Santiago’s charges, and claims that its part in the program is completely legitimate, according to Health Sciences Communications director Leslie Franz.

    “UCSD manages one component of the project,” she said. “We work in collaboration with community clinics in collecting and evaluating data of patients, and also evaluate populations at risk, so we have minimal if no contact with them directly.”

    However, Santiago said he was skeptical about the university’s lack of involvement.

    “They claim to be evaluating,” he said. “But, however they do that, they have to interact with the clinics that have these workers, who turn their heads to these sexually abused preteen girls. UCSD claims to be one of the leaders of this project, so they must know something, at least about the clinics.”

    On the Web site, Santiago claims that the clinics provide free condoms to men that are used in the sexual abuse of Mexican girls. He further states that when an anonymous doctor tried to report the abuses, she was rebuffed by program officials.

    “The people in charge of this program are thinking that they can just ignore these girls’ rights,” Santiago said. “But just because they are from Mexico doesn’t mean that they can be ignored.”

    Franz denied all accusations against UCSD, and said that the Web site’s allegations are unsupported.

    “Everything on the Web site is completely false, completely unfounded and very inflammatory,” she said. “Our program is a federally funded project, and we abide by all appropriate rules and regulations. I don’t know where [Santiago] would get such accusations.”

    The site cites articles from Hispanic publications such as El Universial and uses mostly anonymous sources, according to Santiago. While Los Cristeros does not currently have any official members, Santiago says that anywhere from 50-100 people have contributed to its findings.

    “Initially, I was very interested in the fact that this project was aiming toward this specific group [sexually abused Mexican girls] for HIV and AIDS prevention,” he said.

    On its Web site, The UCSD Center for Community Health’s project overview states that one of the “underserved sub-populations that will be targeted in [the Southern California Border HIV/AIDS Project] are youth sex workers.” The university does not plan to seek any further legal action against Santiago or the Los Cristeros Web site, according to Parode and Franz.

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