- Second District
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has set aside nearly $7 million to address child sex trafficking as part of the 2015-2016 budget. The funds are expected to be used for sex trafficking prevention initiatives, programs and services including the creation of a specialized court for trafficked children in the foster care system to help stabilize them, provide comprehensive services, such as crisis counseling, educational classes, and advocacy to improve their chances of recovery.
In addition, the Board has asked for recommendations from the Departments of Children and Family Services, Health Services, Mental Health and Public Social Services on how best to serve children who are trafficked.
The commercial sexual exploitation of children is not only an international problem, but one also prevalent in Los Angeles. A large percentage of children that have been trafficked have also been in the child welfare system. Currently, children who have been trafficked and arrested are eligible to attend a special court called the STAR Court, or Succeeding Through Achievement and Resilience. Among the girls involved with the court, nearly 80 percent had prior contact with the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services.
“This funding shows our commitment as a board to address the issue of child sex trafficking. We are determined to do whatever we can to help these children escape the life of trauma and exploitation that they have been forced into,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “A specialized court for children in the foster care system is only one component of what we hope will be a comprehensive approach to bringing these children the specialized services and attention that they need.”
“I am very pleased to stand with my colleague Supervisor Ridley-Thomas in opening up the process that will strengthen dependency specialty court programs,” said Supervisor Hilda Solis. “It’s important that we increase the number of attorneys who help children through the court process. We also plan to determine the appropriate solutions needed to support sexually exploited children.”
A dedicated court with a hearing officer, county counsel, child’s attorney, investigators and service providers specially trained to recognize and understand the serious trauma, stages of change, and unique issues surrounding recovery and high probability of relapse would likely lead to better outcomes for these children.
In addition, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas has asked for a report back on how the county can track the magnitude of sexually exploited children within the County of Los Angeles and an assessment of the outcomes of the services rendered to this population including the impact of the STAR Court Program.
Motels that receive Los Angeles County vouchers to house homeless people must comply with new rules to prevent the trafficking of women and children on their premises.
Prompted by reports of sex trafficking and other crimes occurring at many motels around the county, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the motion, co-authored by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe, which will require motel owners to sign a contract stating that they will not participate in or allow any form of sex trafficking to take place in their facilities. In addition, they must hang a poster in a visible place with hotline information to report a possible human trafficking incident and for victims to receive help; allow law enforcement to check guest registries at-will and take a training session on sex trafficking provided by the County.
“There are few more disturbing issues than the buying and selling of children for sex. Unfortunately, much of this activity occurs in motels and hotels. If motels are going to receive a county voucher, they must fulfill their end of the contract,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “We simply cannot and will not turn a blind eye.”
Added Supervisor Knabe, “I encourage those hotel operators that receive County housing vouchers to join us in the fight against the trafficking of young girls. I look forward to continued discussions as to how we can reach this goal.”
Last year, Los Angeles County spent nearly $4 million in vouchers for 52 motels. District Attorney Jackie Lacey testified at the hearing and noted that her office has aggressively pursued cases against traffickers and has sought to help victims through a diversion program.
“This motion will assist law enforcement officials looking for kids who are being enslaved by sex traffickers,” she said. “Signs posted in lobbies may also encourage enslaved minors or good Samaritans and bystanders to call the hotline to seek help and rescue these kids.”
Compton Mayor Aja Brown also testified adding, “Gangs look at children as merchandise. It is imperative that we take a stand collectively… against modern day slavery.”
Kim Biddle, executive director of Saving Innocence, a non-profit that offers services to victims of trafficking, also testified. She said that 100 percent of the children in her care had been abused and held against their will at hotels or motels across the county.
“These hotels are truly being used to harbor trafficking victims… for intensive commercial exploitation and rape,” she said. “It should be a high priority to take a look at the accountability of these motels and hotels, especially if the county is in contract with them or awarding them any kind of funding and support.”
The Department of Public Social Services, which issues the vouchers, will compile a report and bring it back to the Board for review next month. It should include other housing options and ways of enforcing the contract in cooperation with law enforcement and victim service providers.
As a licensed social worker, Candice Kimbell has heard many heartbreaking stories from children struggling with difficult issues. But when one child told her that she had been “recruited” at school, Kimbell was stumped. She discovered that the child had been tricked into prostitution by a friend, known as a “recruiter,” and then sexually exploited and sold by a pimp.
“I didn’t know what she meant,” said Kimbell, who is also a training coordinator for the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health. “I knew I needed to find out more.”
And so, Kimbell joined dozens of mental health professionals at a recent two-day training seminar on the commercial sexual exploitation of children hosted by the Department of Mental Health and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas at the Martin Luther King Jr. Medical Campus in Willowbrook. It is estimated that as many as 300,000 children are at risk of being exploited sexually and sold into prostitution in the United States. The average age of entry into the sex trade for these children is 12.
In 2013, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Don Knabe authored a motion to establish a county-wide approach to combat the trafficking of children in Los Angeles. Already, thousands of Los Angeles County employees have been trained and educated on the dangers of sex trafficking.
Social workers and mental health professionals from the Department of Mental Health began helping children in the county’s probation camps when it became apparent that there was a significant number of girls, ages 15-18, who had been incarcerated for prostitution related activities. Many of these girls were victims of abuse and neglect and they suffered from depression, anxiety and substance abuse.
This year, the Department of Mental Health plans to train and educate more than 600 professionals so they are able to detect signs of sexual exploitation or trafficking among children. By knowing the signs, some might even be able to prevent children who are at-risk of falling prey to predators.
Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, who has led efforts in the fight against child sex trafficking county-wide, said he hoped the two-day event would bring about more awareness and change.
“When we see young people being exploited and we do nothing, we diminish ourselves,” he said. “It is my hope you all leave here today with the inspiration and knowledge to transform the lives of these victims.”
Advising the professionals in the audience, Marvin Southard, director of the Department of Mental Health added, “Keep your mind active but your heart soft as you deal with these children who have faced horrible things.”
The two day seminar was led by Nola Brantley, a survivor and founder of Nola Brantley SPEAKS, an advocacy organization for trafficked children. Brantley, who has spoken nationally on the topic and has helped to train thousands of people in Los Angeles County, noted the importance of treating these children as victims, not as perpetrators of a crime.
“These children are not prostitutes,” she told the audience. “They are sexually exploited children. You can be a part of the restoration of a belief in humanity. We may not see ourselves as healers and we may not see our work as important. But it is. I know that what has been broken can be restored.”
I would like to commend Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) for authoring the Combat Human Trafficking Act, which was introduced recently in the United States Senate. The bill seeks to penalize adults who buy sex from trafficking victims and strengthen victim’s rights. While many federal, state and local efforts have focused mainly on prosecuting the traffickers, it is time we start looking at the buyers who fuel this crime. After all, sex trafficking is a demand-driven industry.
The Combat Human Trafficking Act would ensure that federal law enforcement officials are properly trained to investigate and then prosecute these buyers. It also views those who are being trafficked for what they are: exploited women and children-not criminals.
The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that up to 83 percent of sex trafficking victims are American citizens, and the average victim is first trafficked between ages 12 and 14.There are few topics more disturbing than the buying and selling of children for sex. Unfortunately, our society is still misinformed about this issue. Many still refer to it as prostitution. But, this is modern day slavery and a multi-billion dollar industry driven by unscrupulous adults.
We must put an end to this notion that people—mostly women, girls and boys—are commodities to be bought and sold. This bill will help protect victims while punishing the adults who profit and derive enjoyment from this despicable trade.
Los Angeles County is backing the City of Los Angeles in its effort to crack down on motels and hotels that are magnets for criminal activity, including child sex trafficking.
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors agreed to join in an amicus brief in support of the city in a case that will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. Los Angeles v Patel will determine if the Los Angeles Police Department can check motel registries on demand or penalize motel owners for refusing to cooperate without allowing the motel owner a chance contest the inspection before a judge. In December, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, ruled against the city, saying the ordinance violated the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches.
Law enforcement agencies throughout the county have witnessed the use of these motels to facilitate the sale of children for sex along prostitution tracks. At least 70 cities across the nation, including Atlanta, Denver, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, St. Louis, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle, have similar laws. Courts in other parts of the country have upheld similar laws.
With ordinances like this, traffickers, predators and drug dealers are less likely to use these motels if they know guest information can be made available to police on a moment’s notice. The prevalence of the internet is pushing the sale of commercial sex from the streets, behind the doors of motels and hotels.
The buying and selling of women and children for sex is a multi-billion industry increasingly run by gangs. These women and children are subjected to extremely violent and traumatic acts that too often result in death at a young age.
“While we recognize the need to respect the 4th amendment and we must keep a vigilant eye on potential abuse, these surprise guest-register inspections play an important role in cleaning up neighborhoods that have been living under the threat of violence, drug dealing and blight that many of these motels perpetuate,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who co-authored the motion with Supervisor Don Knabe. “We are in solidarity with the City of Los Angeles in their efforts to keep blight out of our communities.”
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas joined the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST), Polaris, Clear Channel Outdoor, Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe and Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson to announce an awareness campaign against human trafficking in the greater Los Angeles area.
The campaign, which is featured on 25 digital billboards, 20 traditional billboards and 20 transit shelter posters throughout Los Angeles County, includes the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s 24-hour, multi-lingual hotline for victims and community members. The hotline is operated by Polaris and the ad space was donated by Clear Channel.
“I would like to commend Clear Channel Outdoor, Polaris and CAST for helping combat sex trafficking in our communities,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “We need everyone to take notice. These billboards will help spread the word, will educate and raise awareness so that victims know they are not alone and that there is a way out.”
Human trafficking is the world’s fastest growing criminal activity – generating an estimated $150-billion a year. The crime has forced approximately 20.9 million people worldwide to live in modern day slavery, including hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children here in the United States. Los Angeles has become a top hub for modern slavery and human trafficking, making the fight to end the crime locally County important on a national scale.
“These young men and women are somebody’s sons and daughters,” said Buck, of CAST. “As a community we need to look out for them.”
Polaris and Clear Channel Outdoor have forged a national partnership previously. Beginning in Philadelphia in 2012, the two organizations have since supported campaigns with various anti-trafficking organizations in Baltimore, Las Vegas, Miami, Milwaukee, New Jersey, New York, Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle, and across the entire state of Texas. In addition, they formed a partnership two years ago with County Supervisor Don Knabe and the MTA for their first anti-human trafficking campaign in L.A. This marks the second anti-human trafficking supported by Supervisor Knabe and Clear Channel this year.
“It is important that all Los Angeles County residents learn to recognize the signs of human trafficking and do their part to report and combat this horrific crime,” said Supervisor Knabe
Terry Crews, Polaris Ambassador, actor, and former NFL player said that education also needs to happen among the public—especially men who fuel the demand.
“We must change the mindset that allows trafficking to continue,” he said.
To get help or to report a suspected instance of human trafficking, please call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 or text BeFree (233733). Hotline Call Specialists are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to take reports from anywhere in the country related to potential trafficking victims, suspicious behaviors, and/or locations where trafficking is suspected to occur.
Los Angeles County is moving forward to strengthen the safety net for children who have been victims of sex trafficking. After two years of work, county departments are working together to provide wraparound services for these young people.
“It is our job to protect our children,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “And we will not empower sick unscrupulous pimps and johns who buy and sell children on our streets to criminalize our children as prostitutes. Our children are victims needing our support.”
The Supervisor joined Board Chairman Don Knabe and representatives of multiple county departments to unveil the first Los Angeles County pilot program to establish a first responder protocol for sex trafficking victims.
Where once young people picked up on sex-related charges were treated as “prostitutes,” both supervisors, emphasized that no child should be given the label.
“Changing the culture, especially in government, can be very difficult, as we all know,” Supervisor Knabe said, adding “but these girls, who may be a neighbor or may be a relative are being tortured with physical and sexual abuse.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation determined that Los Angeles is one of the nation’s 13 high intensity child prostitution areas, and it is estimated that, 3,000 children in the region are victims of trafficking. T average age these young people are forced or coerced onto the streets is between 12 and13 years-old, and increasingly, sex trafficking is a highly lucrative business run by gangs.
With the new protocol in place, it is the county’s goal to see that underage victims of sex trafficking no longer are arrested, detained and released in what is often an unending cycle. With the paradigm shift, it is the goal of law enforcement, mental health officials, child protection agencies to surround the victim with care and treatment, ensuring, for example, that they are placed in a safe housing, enrolled in school and given proper physical and mental health services. And the program is only the first of many steps that will be coming to help these children.
The board of supervisors will receive quarterly updates on the results of the new system.
“The pilot is an important first step that establishes a strong response team that will be individualized—treating the needs of each victim, one child at a time,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “What we truly hope is that it creates a bond of trust between these children and the adults who do care about their welfare and have their best interests at heart. With trust, these children can heal. As they heal, they can begin to rebuild their young lives.”
Rachel Fleming could not contain her tears as she watched hundreds of marchers make their way down Western Avenue to send a loud message to pimps and johns who buy and sell children for sex. As marchers chanted, “Our children are not for sale,” Fleming reflected on her own family’s trauma after her 15-year-old daughter, Brejouneay, was trafficked.
“I see all of this community support and I know I am not alone,” said Fleming, wiping her eyes. “I will tell my daughter that she is not alone. I will tell her that she can overcome this.”
The march, co-sponsored by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Los Angeles City Mayor Eric Garcetti, was organized to send a message of unity for all those who are fighting against the selling and buying of children for sex, as well as to let all adults who exploit children know that the world is watching.
Western Avenue is one of the prime corridors in Los Angeles where children as young as 12 are sold on the street by pimps and purchased by men who take the children to seedy motels to abuse them. It is estimated that in the United States, 100,000 children are trafficked for sex. It is a $32 billion industry increasingly run by gangs.
The march was a welcome sign to Lloydia Smart, owner of L.A. Tropical American Cuisine Belizean restaurant on Western Avenue.
“This is long overdue,” she said as she held up a flyer in solidarity. “We have kids we see on this street that are 13 and 14 years old and guys picking them up.”
Added her cousin Yvonne Godoy, “You’d be surprised because these are family men in suits, nice cars. Do they not have a heart? How could they do this to these girls and then go home to their wives?”
“Someone once said that we can turn the darkness before us into light, and make the rough places into level ground,” he told the marchers as they prepared to set out. “Let us march down this stretch of Western together with dignity, but also determination. We are putting these predators on notice. Block by block. Life by Life. We are taking back our streets, taking a moral stand and refusing to look away.”
Added Mayor Garcetti: “There are more slaves on the face of this earth than ever before in our history. They are in the mini-malls, in people’s homes, in massage parlors. To the pimps and solicitors, this community warns you, your time is up. This issue is a priority of your mayor and your police department.”
A bevy of elected officials, including District Attorney Jackie Lacey, Sen. Ted Lieu, Sen. Holly Mitchell, Compton Mayor Aja Brown, Human rights advocate and attorney Sandra Fluke and Los Angeles Councilmembers Curren Price and Nury Martinez, joined in to speak about their own efforts in the battle against sex trafficking.
District Attorney Lacey mentioned her office’s new program which seeks to help victims out of the life rather than incarceration.
“We will no longer treat these kids like they are criminals,” she said, and then as a warning shot to predators she added, “If you are out there abusing our children for sex, we are looking for your behind. We will not look the other way.”
More than 50 percent of the children in Los Angeles County who become victims of sex trafficking are in the child welfare system. Although county social workers have been trained to spot the signs that show vulnerable young people are being exploited by pimps and predators, foster families and foster agency officials are not routinely taught important skills: how to prevent a child from being trafficked or recruited, catching the signs if they are trafficked and what do to rescue a child from a life of prostitution.
The Board of Supervisors took a step toward closing that training gap Tuesday, asking the Department of Children and Family Services to draft a proposal to ensure that foster family agencies and group homes who care for DCFS-placed children train their staff and certified foster parents complete annual training to understand telltale signs and halt the cycle of abuse.
“We will continue to advocate and move as far as we can to eradicate this problem,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who co-authored the motion with Chairman Don Knabe. “It is a moral crisis with true consequences in the lives of these children. Enough is enough.”
DCFS Director Philip Browning told the board he supports training and education of foster families and the agencies.
It is estimated that in Los Angeles County, 3,000 children are victims of trafficking. The average age for a person to enter that life is between 12-13 years-old. Increasingly, sex trafficking is a highly lucrative business run by gangs.
But sometimes the signs are hard to notice.
“As a trained clinician, I missed the signs,” said Dr. Barbara Hernandez, vice president of community service at the Crittenton Service for Children and Families. “You think you know what you are looking for, but you do not. Training and education on this issue leads to preventing children from falling through the cracks.”
Troubling signs and signals can include sudden prosperity, with new cell phones, new shoes even lipstick, as well as the use of coded language for life on the streets. Some group homes are recruitment spots for traffickers.
“Any child their age has no income, so if they don’t have the means to buy it, that is always a red flag,” said Rachel Thomas of Sowers Education Group, which works with survivors of sex trafficking. Foster parents and foster agency workers must also be familiar with the mind control techniques that pimps use to entice children into selling their bodies, such as convincing a child that she should be paid to have sex with people and be proud of making $1,000 a night.
“Education is inoculation,” said Thomas. “Children are lured and trapped. Once they are in and are committed to subculture of exploitation, there are deeper levels.”
In addition to pushing for educating foster agencies and foster families on sex trafficking, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas is partnering with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to sponsor a march to increase awareness and to send a message that children are not for sale. The march will be held on April 26 along Western Avenue beginning at 9:30 a.m. To register, please click here.
Two years ago, as they gathered around a conference table at the Coalition to Abolish Trafficking and Slavery, a group of sex trafficking survivors decided that posting a hotline number in bars, truck stops, massage parlors and emergency rooms would be a lifeline for victims seeking help. It would be a sign for a Good Samaritan who is ready to intervene.
And so they wrote letters and brought the idea to legislators in Sacramento. The result of their efforts is a state law that now requires these businesses and facilities to place a poster in a place that is visible.
“As a survivor myself, I believe that the outreach with the posters is critical in helping people identity victims of human trafficking and making it easier for victims themselves to seek help,” said Maria Suarez, an advocate for other victims.
This week, advocates, survivors and elected officials, gathered to mark the official launch of the campaign poster, with the number 1-888-539-2373 in bright green font for all to see.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles City Council Member Nury Martinez and Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer all showed their support for raising awareness about the issue of sex trafficking at a press conference held at the National Council of Jewish Women in Los Angeles.
“Today, we celebrate not only the launch of the poster distribution, but we also celebrate the power of survivor advocacy and grass roots initiatives,” said Kay Buck, CEO and Executive Director of CAST. “Across the nation, states which have enacted public posting laws have seen significant increases in calls to human trafficking hotlines. When victims have access to this information, they will call, and their lives will be changed because of it.”
Stating his outrage at the grown men who profit from and exploit children for sex, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said trafficking is the “moral issue of our time.”
“These are victims, not prostitutes,” he said. “These posters are a low risk, non-confrontational way to take action. We know that these Johns and pimps have their own language, special codes and phrases to signal that they want to sell or purchase children for sex. And with these posters, we will let the victims know we will have our own code. A code says we care and want to help.”
Although the notice only will affect businesses and facilities in the city of Los Angeles, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Knabe will soon introduce a motion for businesses and facilities throughout the county.
Volunteers started a city-wide, door-to-door poster distribution campaign. In addition, the city attorney’s office has spearheaded the mailing of an enforcement notice so that businesses know that the city of L.A. is taking this new law seriously.
Added City Attorney Mike Feuer, “This notice has had meaningful impact in other states. This is a cause we have pledged to join.”
Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST) (888-539-2373) and the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (888-373-7888).
Click here to view the motion passed by the Board of Supervisors.
More information about the SB1193 Implementation Taskforce can be found at http://ncjwla.org/our-programs/advocacy/human-trafficking-outreach-project.