By Shirin Rajaee

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – Sacramento will soon be the focal point of a three-year research project on sex trafficking.

State officials say there is not enough reliable data to effectively tackle the problem. So with the help of City Councilman Eric Guerra, Senator Richard Pan and the California Department of Justice, the state is allocating $1.5 million to Sacramento to lead a study that will hopefully benefit other cities in the state.

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One of the focal points of the study will be Stockton Boulevard in south Sacramento. It’s one of the many commercial corridors in the county that has had a long history of sex trafficking.

“No one understood trafficking. They looked at women as monsters, as criminals, as women who chose to live these lifestyles,” said April Grayson.

Grayson is a survivor of sex trafficking. She says her dark days started at an early age.

“My mother was murdered when I was three, I was adopted when I was five,” Grayson said. “The family I was adopted into, they didn’t know how to deal with a kid with so much trauma.”

In and out of foster homes with no family, no sense of security, by the age of 17 Grayson was pulled into a life that eventually landed her time behind bars.

“The thing that people don’t think about is the fear that takes place when a woman has signed up for something she didn’t know she was signing up for,” she said.

Grayson is now turning her life around here at Community Against Sexual Harm (CASH), a Sacramento non-profit dedicated to helping women who have been sexually exploited. It’s also the lead organization for the state-funded study.

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“We don’t have a way to tell you the exact scope of sex trafficking in Sacramento. That’s what the research is set to determine, because we believe it’s a much larger issue than most people are aware,” said Terri Galvan, the executive director of CASH.

Sacramento County has become a sex trafficking hub.

“Human trafficking is happening all around, also on the internet, and massage establishments,” said Councilman Guerra. “The hope is to get people as young as 13, 14 out of that cycle.”

“The money will help us address what are the best strategies, and to replicate throughout the state,” Guerra adds.

California is spending $4 million statewide to do more research on the problem, with $1.5 million going directly towards funding the study in Sacramento.

The city will also be allocating an additional $95,000 to CASH. Galvan says that money will be used to expanding their housing services for the homeless to keep victims from returning back to that life.

“That’s one of the reasons women do return to the life, because their housing is unstable, don’t have a secure place to live,” said Galvan.

CASH, which serves about 325 women a year, has become a place of refuge for hundreds of women.

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“CASH has empowered me so I can rebuild, they have taught me what it looks like to be a strong woman – what it looks like to fight for yourself and show up for yourself,” said Grayson.