More than 100 sexually trafficked youth – including an 11-year-old – have been rescued since Los Angeles County adopted the First Responder Protocol that directs law enforcement officers to treat them as victims of abuse instead of criminalizing them as delinquents.
“Our children are not for sale and there is no such thing as a child prostitute,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who with Supervisor Don Knabe coauthored the September 24, 2013 motion to create the Protocol.
The Protocol reflects an understanding that sexually trafficked youth have been exposed to severe violence, threats, and trauma. It requires law enforcement officers who encounter sexually trafficked youth to summon representatives of the Departments of Children and Family Services, Probation, Mental Health, and Health Services and survivor advocacy groups to arrive on-scene within 90 minutes, and to provide specialized services within 72 hours.
Michelle Guymon, director of the Child Sex Trafficking Unit in the Probation Department, said this kind of intervention is crucial to putting these youth on the path to recovery.
“Young people we recovered from sex trafficking four to five years ago, who have been receiving services from the County, have gone on to become advocates at the state level, influencing legislation and even advising organizations at the national level,” she said. “They tell us repeatedly that what was instrumental in their success was having someone there along the way to provide them with consistent support and access to services.”
Guymon and her fellow members of the Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (CSEC) Integrated Leadership Team told the Board of Supervisors that 112 youth have been rescued since the Protocol’s inception. Their average age is 15, though the group included one 11-year-old and three 13-year-olds.
The team added that the multi-disciplinary collaboration among law enforcement and social services providers led to an 89 percent decline in arrests in the areas where the Protocol is observed.
Currently, the Protocol is being implemented at the Sheriff’s Compton, Century, Lancaster, Palmdale and Santa Clarita Stations and LA Basin Transit Bureau. It has also been adopted by the Los Beach Police Department and the Los Angeles Police Department’s 77th and Southeast Area Stations.
The Protocol will be expanded to all Sheriff’s stations starting in October. It will eventually be adopted by all remaining LAPD stations and independent police departments.