For years, community activist Sinetta Farley saw too many young girls walking the streets of Long Beach Boulevard, a popular “track” for human trafficking. And so Farley was moved to help the young victims of the sex trade.
She founded Restoration Diversion Services in 2009, an organization devoted to helping young victims get out of the life by counseling to them and helping them find services. This year, however, she finally was able to establish a storefront on the boulevard. It is the first drop in center in Compton that offers victims a refuge from the pimps and Johns who exploit and abuse them on a daily basis.
Her center, which runs in partnership with the Compton Clergy Council, the non-profits Mary Magdalene Project and Children of the Night, is now open three days a week and offers victims food, drink, shelter, clothing and counseling. It also GED preparation through a program run by Children of the Night, which has been helping children escape the life of prostitution since it was founded in 1979.
“Long Beach Boulevard is the track,” said Farley at the grand opening before a crowd of community supporters, volunteers, sex trafficking survivors and elected officials. “We are in the center of the battle; in gang territory. To meet the girls in their environment is very challenging. We hope to make these girls aware of the services they can have. Now the community doesn’t have to ask, ‘what can I do?’ they can just walk through the door.”
The two-room center, which has a comfortable sofa in the entry way and a conference table in another room, is packed with thoughtful amenities the children might want such as tissues, nail polish, candy, a prayer board with names of victims, blankets and even a few stuffed animals. Throughout, there are inspirational signs such as “Make Your Life Worth Living,” to give victims a sense of hope. There is a computer available to help them receive training for their GED. Only the locked wrought iron door in the front and the constant vigilance by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputies are a reminder that many of these children are escaping very dangerous situations.
Sex trafficking victims, whose average age is 12-14, often come from dysfunctional backgrounds and many have neither parents nor loving guardians, and instead have been brought up in the foster care system. Already low on self-esteem, many are “owned” by gang members acting as their pimps who beat them, threaten them and take away any form of identification to make the victims more vulnerable. It is estimated that in L.A. County there are 3,000 children involved in sex trafficking, a lucrative trade increasingly run by gangs.
Changing the perception of these victims in society at large is important, said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who attended the ribbon cutting. “These children are not prostitutes,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “Children cannot give consent to have sex with a grown person.”
Indeed, as Brenda Allmond, part of the training team at RDS, put it, “This could be your daughter, your granddaughter, your sister, your mother. We are in a battle for the life of our children.”
Survivors like D’Lita Miller said having a resource like Restoration Diversion Services available at ground zero of the sex trafficking epidemic sends a huge statement to the abusers.
“We are sending a clear message to the enemy: this has got to stop,” she said. “Each and every one of these victims came from a place of broken-ness. This is a place of restoration. It is going to take all of us to change this. I ask you to put down your judgment. I ask you for compassion.”
For more information please call: 310-639-1695
Restoration Diversion Services is located at 208 North Long Beach Blvd., Compton.