"Poverty moves people to feel desperate," said Maria Shriver. "Poverty tells people: Sell your body because that's the only way you're going to make money. And poverty makes people do really radical things."
Maria Shriver is hoping conferences like this will raise awareness. Experts say there are close to 27 million victims of human trafficking across the world, people bought and sold for as little as a few thousand dollars.
One of the messages to come out of the conference is that everyday citizens can make a difference. Many victims of human trafficking are saved by Good Samaritans.
"Everyday citizens can make a difference by looking for those things that might indicate somebody is here as a slave, in essence, that they're not getting paid for their work, they're in fear for their life, they have no control over their movements," said San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. "Keep an eye out."
Federal immigration policy also plays a role in dealing with the problem, though the First Lady would not say where she stands on tougher enforcement.
"I think educating employers, educating lawmakers, educating citizens -- I think always saying it's just about immigration deflects the issue," said Shriver.
Advocates are also quick to point out it is not just illegal immigrants sold into slavery. American citizens are also increasingly becoming victims.