The United Nations estimates that 27 million people are living in slavery around the world today, with Los Angeles, sadly, serving as a top destination for human trafficking in the United States.
Even though the trafficking of children happens on a regular basis in so many cities and towns in California, our state does not have the necessary laws to deter predators, or so-called “Johns” from sexually exploiting children. In fact, California received an F grade from Shared Hope International, a non-profit dedicated to eradicating human trafficking around the globe. California even lags behind Texas and Alabama when it comes to prosecuting the demand of child sex trafficking and victims are provided little protection under the law.
As part of an effort by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to help victims and punish the perpetrators, he is sponsoring a petition asking residents to support state legislation that dramatically increases penalties for the purchasers of these sexually exploited children. The proposed legislation also would increase the penalty from a misdemeanor to a felony for anyone who engages in any act of paying for sex with a minor.
The petition comes after the Board of Supervisors passed a motion in September to sponsor such a bill and sent a five-signature letter to the California legislature, Governor, and Attorney General calling for legislative changes to the California Penal Code. The collected signatures of the petition will then be given to legislators to introduce in the state legislature this year.
“It is imperative that we penalize these adults who do such despicable acts,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “It is unacceptable that children are being used and abused and it will not be tolerated. Let’s send a message to our state legislatures and make California the toughest state where anyone caught doing sexual acts with an underage child will suffer severe consequences.”
The petition also comes during National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, recently declared by President Barack Obama. The Obama Administration has been going after traffickers, charging a record number of perpetrators, deploying new technology in the fight against human trafficking, developing the Federal Government’s first-ever strategic action plan to strengthen victim services and strengthening protections against human trafficking in Federal contracts. National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month will culminate in the annual celebration of National Freedom Day on February 1.
Events will be planned in Los Angeles to bring awareness to the problem of human trafficking, including a 2-mile walk on January 11 through Koreatown, a neighborhood where known cases of human trafficking have surfaced. The Walk 4 Freedom event, organized by the Los Angeles-based organization Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST) is partnering with Catholic Sisters and other community partners. Internationally-recognized survivor-advocate Ima Matul will lead a contingent of survivors of human trafficking who have become vocal human rights advocates. For more information, click here.
“Human trafficking is a serious and growing problem in neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles,” said Kay Buck, Executive Director and CEO of CAST. “This human rights violation often happens behind closed doors, hidden from the public. Walk 4 Freedom sends a very different message: the people of Los Angeles do care. There is hope. Trafficking victims can come forward, receive help, and live with dignity again.”