Our Children are Not for Sale: Hundreds March Against Sex Trafficking


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 Assemblymember 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.”

Assemblymember 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.”
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First 5 LA Allocates $1.5 Million to Expand Free Vision Care Services for Children

First 5 LA, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help children under the age of 5 live physically and emotionally healthy lives so they are ready to learn, allocated $1.5 million to ensure that the county’s neediest children receive free vision care services.

Acting on a motion by First 5 LA Commission Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas, the commission voted to expand their existing partnership with UCLA to facilitate a children’s vision care program and establish new partnerships with two leading nonprofit organizations that provide vision care services to children: Vision to Learn and the Junior Blind of America.

“This momentous decision ensures that children across Los Angeles County will receive vision care services that otherwise may not be afforded to them,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas. “Equipping students with glasses to reach their full potential will not only help students perform optimally in the classroom; it is a significant tool to help them excel in life.”

The motion designates $1.2 million over four years to Vision to Learn and $300,000 over two years to Junior Blind of America. The funding is projected to serve at least 50,000 additional children over the next four years. The motion comes on the heels of the 15th Anniversary of the passage of Proposition 10, which was approved by California voters in 1998 and allocates funding for early childhood health and development programs for pregnant women and young children up to five years of age.

Vision to Learn delivers optical care to low income communities through a unique partnership with Los Angeles Unified School District by providing two mobile eye clinics on site. After an initial screening from LAUSD nurses, children are served in the mobile clinic by trained opticians and optometrists who offer free eyes exams and deliver free prescription glasses to students. Since 2012, this innovative mobile clinic has provided more than 12,500 children with free vision care.

“This support from First 5 LA will help better the lives of 12,000 kids, giving them a chance to succeed in school and in life.” said Austin Beutner, Founder and Chairman of Vision To Learn. He added, “Vision To Learn solves the problem of access to eye care and glasses in low income communities through Los Angeles by bringing the services directly to the kids at school.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Vision Health Initiative, vision disorders are the most prevalent disabling condition among children. Moreover, it is estimated that one out of every four children between the ages of 5 and 17 has a vision disorder that is often undiagnosed because the child has never received a comprehensive eye examination from an eye doctor.

The Junior Blind of America Vision Screening Program shares Vision to Learn’s successful track record in providing comprehensive screenings to preschool children throughout LA County since 2008.

“Thanks to this generous support from First 5 LA, Junior Blind will be able to provide thousands of low-income children with vision screening services,” says Dr. Jonathan Macy, longtime Junior Blind Board Member and ophthalmologist. “Together, Junior Blind and First 5 LA will help ensure healthier vision for some of our counties’ most vulnerable and underserved children.”

D’Lita Miller: From Victim to Advocate

D’Lita Miller stared at a picture of herself at 11, where she smiles proudly, wearing a white dress and pearls as her teacher hugged her on her 6th grade graduation. She was a straight-A student, president of her class, attended church and was all around a good kid.

But only a few months later, her life crumbled around her.

In the fall of that year, she was kidnapped and held against her will for three days by a neighbor and other men who repeatedly raped her. When she was finally able to escape, she ran out of the house, barefoot, to a neighbor who took her to the hospital.

She was never the same.

Miller, now an advocate for young girls who are sexually trafficked, knows “the life” all too well. After the rapes, feeling worthless and lost, she became prey for older men, and ultimately became one of the hundreds of teenage girls that are trapped in a life of prostitution, selling her body to men three times her age.

Now an adult who has been out of the life for 13 years, she works to rescue young victims from the streets, leading them out one at a time.

“I was a victim, then a survivor. Now I am a leader,” she said. “When children are in that situation, they want to be able to relate to someone. I can’t express more strongly, how important it is to have survivor advocates.”

In Los Angeles County, an estimated 3,000 children are trafficked for sex. Some are runaways, others are in the foster care system, others are duped into the trade by pimps and traffickers who pretend to be boyfriends – many have been assaulted and raped early in life, as was D’Lita, and believe they deserve nothing better.

It is an increasingly sophisticated and lucrative trade, run by gangs as part of a criminal enterprise and one that is becoming more profitable than drug dealing.

While much of the trafficking happens online, a great deal of the action occurs along popular “tracks” such as Long Beach Boulevard and Figueroa Street. Along these stretches, in alleys and run-down motels, men pay to have sex with girls as young as 12. On any given weekend night, as many as 1,000 cars line up along Long Beach Boulevard with men waiting to buy sex with girls, according to the Sheriff’s Department.

Traffickers are also on site. These gang members and pimps are increasingly violent and have taken to tattooing their victims on the face, neck or legs to further humiliate them and discourage them from running away.

In trainings and presentations she makes throughout the state, Miller helps those working to end sex trafficking — family members, foster parents, case workers, social workers and medical professionals — to recognize the signs of trafficking.

These include: youth who are interested in, or are in relationships with older men; inexplicable tattoos, children who seem depressed, fearful, full of tension or ones who suddenly have access to newfound, unaffordable luxuries such as expensive clothing or jewelry.

Many victims blame themselves for their situation and do not recognize that they are being exploited, she said.

“A young lady I was talking with didn’t consider herself a victim. She wanted to go back to the life. And I said, ‘I’ve been where you are but I know this is not the path set for you.’ In their minds they believe this is their choice. And if they ran away, they believe it is their fault,” she said.

Furthermore, law enforcement traditionally has arrested the girls, charging them with prostitution even if they are minors and cannot legally consent. Because many of their buyers are not arrested, a deep mistrust of law enforcement is created.

“These children watch as the adult man is set free,” she said. “And they are thinking, ‘this is the man who just raped me.’”

Miller remembers those men. Her customers were husbands, fathers, grandfathers, lawyers, politicians and businessmen. They owned homes and were employed. She reflects back on those days and wishes she had received mental health help to deal with her trauma. She longs to address the customers one day in a training session. And what would she tell them? Simply this: “Stop buying girls.”

March Against Child Sex Trafficking

To combat the sex trafficking of children in Los Angeles County, and to put their buyers and sellers on notice that trafficking will not be tolerated, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas is sponsoring an evening march on November 21 along Long Beach Boulevard.

“I encourage anyone who is concerned about the welfare of our children to join us Friday, November 21,” said the Chairman. “A concerned community must turn out to let these victims know we care, tell the neighborhood that this blight will not be tolerated and to send a warning to the customers and traffickers that we are watching you and we will come after you.”

On any given day along a stretch of Long Beach Boulevard that traverses the cities of Compton, Lynwood and into South Gate, scores of young girls can be seen walking along in short skirts and tight tops while older men in cars slow down to arrange a purchase. It continues to be called prostitution, yet in many cases it is not – it is actually the sex trafficking of children.  Trafficking is an increasingly sophisticated and lucrative trade that is now largely run by gangs as part of a criminal enterprise.  With victims often expected to have sex with as many as 20 adult men per night, and a nightly quota set by the pimp to bring in between $1,000 to $3,500 per day, it is also becoming more profitable than drug dealing.

These victims are controlled by pimps who beat them, threaten them and manipulate them into selling their bodies.  They are typically U.S. citizens, including adults, girls, boys, and transgender youth.  Although less common, immigrants may also be victimized. Their buyers also are typical: Married, middle class men with a job and a college education.

As Rachel Lloyd, founder and executive director of the anti-sex trafficking nonprofit group GEMS, said to the Polaris Project, a sex trafficking monitoring group. “Throughout the U.S., girls are being bought and sold by adults to adults. Girls are sold on the streets, in strip-clubs, brothels, truck-stops and with increasing frequency on internet sites like Craigslist and Backpage.”

In Los Angeles County, an estimated 3,000 children are trafficked for sex. Some are runaways, others are in the foster care system, others are duped into the trade by pimps and traffickers who pretend to be boyfriends – many have been assaulted and raped early in life, and believe they deserve nothing better.

While much of the trafficking happens online, a great deal also occurs along popular “tracks” such as Long Beach Boulevard and Figueroa Street. Along these stretches, in alleys and run-down motels, men pay to have sex with girls as young as 12. According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, on any given weekend night as many as 1,000 cars line up along Long Beach Boulevard as men wait to buy sex with children.

Click here to download the flyer in English.  Click here to download the flyer in Spanish.

Training Leaders to Change Communities

Rev. Cecil Murray and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas

Hoping to increase community participation in reducing violence among young people, ministers, counselors and community activists gathered recently at the USC Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement to discuss ways they can go into communities and churches and help implement change.

The center has created a leadership transformation program, the Faith Leaders Institute, which inspires community leaders to establish mentoring services, host job training seminars and other community outreach efforts in order to make a difference in Boyle Heights, Long Beach, Santa Ana and South Los Angeles.

As Murray explains its mission: “The challenge continues to be, if I can help somebody as I travel along, then my living has not been in vain.”

In addition to youth violence, the program included a discussion on job creation, health disparities and building healthy communities. For example, with unemployment continuing to disproportionately affect the African-American community, job education outreach efforts are essential. In addition, there is a need to reduce incarceration rates and to address the issues that make black males 5 ½ times more likely than white males to be incarcerated and Latinos are 3 times more likely.

“When we talk about the cycle of violence and incarceration – I don’t know a better solution than to provide someone with a job,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who gave the opening remarks.  The Chairman also spoke of the new Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital and Outpatient Center in Willowbrook, which is nearing completion, as a centerpiece for creating healthy communities. “The new Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital and campus is the common denominator in a community revitalization effort.”

Indeed, some of the speakers highlighted the nexus between being poor and uneducated and incidence of violence. Poverty is acutely felt in a society that has such immense wealth disparity. “Violence is a natural outgrowth when poverty and hopelessness come together,” said Rev. Everett Bell Jr., associate minister at Mt. Olive 2nd Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. “The only answer we have for that problem is to build more prisons.”
Noting the high rate of ADHD diagnosis among African American boys, Dr. Thema Bryant-Davis, a psychologist, said that deep rooted problems cannot be dismissed but rather addressed with mental health counseling.

“We have to provide the services people need to heal,” said Bryant-Davis. “We see such trauma in our community. It is not just immediate trauma but inter-generational trauma. We are dealing with multiple layers of dysfunction.”

Many are stepping up to help. Once a week, a group of men who are members of Men of Color in the Industry go to a local elementary school and mentor 6th grade boys.  Jon Covington, founder of MOCITI, said by teaching these boys social skills, how to get along, set goals for themselves and think about their future, there is more likelihood they will graduate from high school and become productive members of society.

“We like to start when they are young and they are more trainable,” said Covington. “As Fredrick Douglass said, ‘It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.’ ”

Another panelist, Academy Award winning actor Louis Gossett Jr., spoke of the importance of teaching children their value. Gossett, who founded the Eracism Foundation to help combat racism and stereotyping through educational outreach, said many children are not being taught how to respect others or to assume responsibility for their actions.

“These children are not taught to behave by the generation that came before them,” he said. “They have not been taught so they cannot be blamed. We need to show these children hope. It’s our job to restore sanity, physically, mentally and spiritually.”

 

County Moves to Help Homeowners Facing Foreclosures

In an effort to help homeowners and renters at risk of losing their homes, Los Angeles County now will offer free counseling and information services for residents facing foreclosure.

The expanded Homeowners Notification Program, which the Board of Supervisors passed on October 22nd, came as a result of a motion sponsored by Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas and a county-backed state bill to help homeowners and lenders. The county is set to launch the expanded services by December 1st.

Currently, residents facing foreclosure do not have access to free county services to help them save their homes. With the new ordinance, the county’s Department of Consumer Affairs will work directly with lenders and homeowners to explore options to avoid foreclosure. In addition, the department’s investigators will work with law enforcement and regulatory agencies to identify and investigate real estate fraud and refer cases for civil or criminal prosecution. To cover the cost of this service, the new fee for notice of defaults and sales will be $7 while the fee for the recording of deeds will increase from $4 to $7.

Sadly, many residents who faced foreclosure have been targeted by fraudulent “foreclosure consultants” with promises of help only to be charged for costly services that ultimately never were provided. According to the consumer affairs department, many of those victims paid anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000 in fees to these fraudsters but nonetheless still lost their homes. Since 2006, more than 450,000 Los Angeles County homes have gone into foreclosure.

“This service is intended to protect residents and empower them to try to save their homes,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “Too many people are targeted by predators and they end up not only losing their homes but also their life’s savings. The purpose of this program is to prevent foreclosures from happening but also help those who have been tricked. That is a good thing for all concerned.”

County Seeks to Help Disabled Vets

Disabled veterans who own a business will finally get the support they need in competing for county contracts. The Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise program, authored by Supervisor Don Knabe and approved on October 15, 2013 at the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, will establish hiring preferences for disabled veterans in procuring contracts.

Hoping to continue the momentum to help vets, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas introduced a Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise program at the Metropolitan Transportation Board meeting on Thursday October 24, 2013 to establish more opportunities for disabled vets. The motion asks that a mandatory contract goal for Disabled Veteran Business Enterprises be brought to the Board in January for a vote.

According the United States Department of Labor, in August 2012, about 3.0 million veterans, or 14 percent of the total, had a service-connected disability. This motion, will complement the proactive work Metro has already undertaken including attending veterans’ job fairs all over Los Angeles County to a Construction Careers Policy and Project Labor Agreement that explicitly recognize veterans by incorporating them in its definition of “disadvantaged worker” and “helmets to hardhats” categories.

“American men and women risk their lives to protect and defend the nation,” said Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas. “But they frequently pay a heavy price for their service and often face many barriers when they return home. We should do everything we can to help this population that has served our country.”

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The Blue Ribbon Commission for Child Protection

A distinguished and diverse panel of experts in social welfare, child advocacy, foster care, juvenile justice, education and law enforcement is rigorously examining why child protection reforms at the Department of Children and Family Services as well as other county agencies have not been implemented. The commission convened on August 1 and is expected to make its recommendations for an overhaul early next year.

“This panel is comprised of a variety of experts who bring a diversity of viewpoints and experiences,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas. “It is my hope that their guidance and recommendations will result in greater emphasis on child safety and accountability.”

A motion to create the panel, authored by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, came on the heels of the deaths of several children, questionable practices by several Foster Family Agencies and concerns that the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services and other agencies have failed to intervene in cases even when there are multiple abuse allegations.

Here is the list of appointees and their brief bios:

First District:

Andrea Rich: Rich served as President and Chief Executive Officer and Director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (“LACMA”) from 1999 to 2005. Prior to her decade-long tenure at LACMA, she served as Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Operating Officer at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Richard Martinez: Martinez is a long-time educator who serves as the Superintendent of the Pomona Unified School District. He is a member of the Association of California School Administrators, California Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators. He has an undergraduate degree in social work from California State University Los Angeles.

Second District:

Marilyn Flynn: Flynn was first appointed dean of the USC School of Social Work in 1997, and was reappointed in 2011. She has overseen the expansion of the school’s Hamovitch Center for Science in the Human Services and recruited a nationally recognized faculty to conduct clinical and intervention studies in health, mental health, aging and child maltreatment. She was the President of the St. Louis Group, representing most U.S. based schools of social work in major research institutions.

David Sanders: Sanders, the former director of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, is now executive vice president of systems improvement for Casey Family Programs, the nation’s largest operating foundation dedicated solely to providing and improving foster care.

Third District:

Terry Friedman: Judge Friedman served on the Los Angeles Superior Court from 1995-2010, including two years as Presiding Judge of the Los Angeles Juvenile Court, the largest juvenile court in the United States. Since 2005, Judge Friedman has been a member of the California Judicial Council, the policy making body for the state judiciary. He was elected President of the California Judges Association in 2005.

Leslie Gilbert-Lurie: Gilbert-Lurie is a writer, lawyer, teacher and past president of Los Angeles County Office of Education and founding member of the Alliance for Children’s Rights. She spent close to a decade as an executive at NBC.

Fourth District:

Janet Teague: Teague served for 11 years on the Los Angeles County Commission for Children and Families and on the board of the Alliance for Children’s Rights. She began her philanthropic work by providing scholarships through her foundation, the Teague Foundation, to the Department of Children and Family Services.

Gabriella Holt: Holt is the third vice-president of the Los Angeles County Probation Commission. She is a former nurse who currently serves on the Los Angeles County Comprehensive Education Reform Committee, which seeks to design and implement major education reforms in the county’s court school system. She is a voting member of the Los Angeles County Criminal Justice Coordination Committee.

Fifth District:

Dickran Tevrizian Jr.: Judge Tevrizian is a retired federal judge who was appointed to the bench by President Ronald Reagan. Currently a mediator with Jams, he also serves on the county’s Jail Violence Commission appointed by Supervisor Antonovich.

Sgt. Dan Scott: As a sergeant with the LA County Sheriff’s Dept., Scott has supervised the investigation of 4,000 criminal investigations of child abuse and sexual assault. He is one of the nation’s leading experts in child abuse, he has conducted over 1,500 criminal investigations in which he has interviewed over 1800 child and adult victims and over 1,500 suspects.

For more information, please visit:

Blue Ribbon Commission Page

The Danger of Sleeping in Bed with Babies

 

Hoping to raise awareness about the dangers of parents sleeping in the same bed with their babies, child advocacy organizations have launched a major educational and marketing campaign throughout Los Angeles County.

The statistics are chilling: every five days, a baby in Los Angeles County suffocates while sleeping. Over the last four years, 278 babies in the county have died from sleep suffocation — more than all other accidental deaths of children under the age of 14.  These deaths are silent and quick—and completely preventable. Sleep suffocation is most common among Latino and African-American families.

The Safe Sleep for Baby Campaign, which is also in Spanish and was created by the Los Angeles County Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect and First 5 L.A, encourages parents to share a room, not a bed and to place the baby in a crib or bassinet. Parents are also advised to lay babies on their back, without pillows, blankets, bumpers or toys.  Accidental suffocation is the greatest risk for babies under the age of one.

Here are some answers for common questions on safe sleeping techniques:

  • Is it safe to put a baby to sleep in a car seat or stroller?
    No, because of the way the baby is positioned in these carriers. Babies should always be placed on  the  back to sleep.
  • Can I swaddle my baby?
    Yes,  but be sure to use a light receiving blanket , as other kinds, such as San Marcos blankets, can be too heavy and warm for infants. Once babies reach 5-6 months, swaddling is no longer needed and parents can simply continue to dress their baby in a onesie or sleeper. 
  • What if I am breastfeeding?
    Breastfeeding is encouraged and  nursing mothers should place their baby in a crib or bassinet after nursing. 
  • What if my baby likes sleeping on his stomach?
    The safest way for babies to sleep is on the back. When babies sleep on their stomachs  or sides , they can  more easily choke or suffocate.
  • My baby has trouble breathing – what’s the best way to put my baby to sleep?
    If your baby has a medical condition, talk to your doctor about any special care your child may need.

For more information visit: http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/mch/sids/sids.htm