Chants of “Our children are not for sale!” echoed loudly along a stretch of Long Beach Boulevard as nearly 400 residents, members of church organizations, community activists and elected officials marched from Compton to Lynwood, ignoring a light evening drizzle to bring attention to the plight of children who are sexually trafficked.
“Every day, children as young as 12 are bought and sold by adult men,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who organized the march. “We will shine a light on this despicable behavior. You, who come here days, nights, weekends to buy these girls, we see you. And we will bring changes throughout Los Angeles County and the state of California.”[raw]The march, which began at Palmer Avenue in Compton and ended at Helen Keller Elementary School in Lynwood, was attended by State Senator Holly Mitchell, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, Compton Mayor Aja Brown, attorney and social justice advocate Sandra Fluke and other local officials as well as community residents. Marchers followed a 1.6-mile route that is often the site where “johns” and “pimps” buy and sell young victims. Seedy motels and some businesses along the corridor also contribute to this activity.
Human sex trafficking is a $32 billion dollar business increasingly run by gangs. The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that 100,000 children in the United States are sold for sex each year. In Los Angeles, it is estimated that as many as 3,000 children are trafficked.
Sheriff Baca pledged that his department would arrest the men who have sex with underage girls.
“These young girls are victims. Our strategy is not to put them in a prosecutorial place but to save them from those who should be prosecuted,” he said.
At the event, survivors moved the crowd by telling their stories and calling for action.
“As a child, I was bought and sold here on these streets,” said D’Lita Miller, who was kidnapped and raped at 11 and ultimately forced into the life of sexual exploitation. Miller, who is now an advocate for girls, with the organization Saving Innocence, urged the crowd to look at girls on the street with compassion and love.
“I stand here as a voice for the voiceless. These are not prostitutes. These are children of God. Stand up because they need you. All of you here are making a statement.”
Maria Suarez, with the National Council of Jewish Women, was purchased for $200 at the age of 15 and endured years of beatings and sexual exploitation, thanked the crowd.
“It is so beautiful to see everyone here,” she said. “We are human beings. We are not disposable. I encourage all of you to keep on fighting.”
Many residents said they turned out for the march after witnessing too many lewd acts committed by men with young victims in parked cars, or coming in and out of a row of seedy motels and the adjacent alleyways. Much of the activity occurs in front of the school or in the school parking lot when children are getting in and out of school.
The march even drew residents from Long Beach, who said that what happens on the stretch of boulevard in Compton and Lynwood can also affect their own community as well.
“We are neighbors,” said Carlos Valdez of the Coolidge Triangle community in Long Beach, noting that whenever law enforcement cracks down on the trafficking activity in Lynwood and Compton, it gets pushed into their neighborhood. “We know that this can be a cat and mouse game. So we like to get involved.”
Senator Mitchell pledged to the crowd that her first pieces of legislation in January would attack the issue of sex trafficking in California.
“If you are here tonight, that means you intend to do something about this travesty happening in our state and our country,” she said. “Thank you for making a public commitment to do the right thing for our children.”[/raw]