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

 

Protecting the County’s Children


Following the heartbreaking death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez and revelations that the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services and other agencies failed to intervene despite multiple abuse allegations made by family and teachers, Los Angeles County Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Michael D. Antonovich have authored a motion to create an independent commission tasked with digging deeper into why child protection reforms have not been implemented. The Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection Review would be made up of two members appointed by each supervisor by July 1, 2013. The commission would investigate all previously delayed or failed efforts to implement reforms and provide recommendations for a feasible plan of action at DCFS. The commission would also analyze the current structure and scope of DCFS as well as ways to increase cooperation between the departments of Mental Health, Public Health, the Los Angeles County Sheriff, District Attorney, Dependency Court and commissions to better protect children.

“When the lives of children are at stake, we simply cannot stand by and hope that reforms take hold,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “The hope is that this commission will examine the actions, or inaction, that have led to the deaths of innocent children and develop a true action plan not a band-aid solution.”

Added Supervisor Antonovich: “This commission will examine the full scope of departments involved, including Mental Health, Public Health and law enforcement, as well as the current public policies in place to more effectively help prevent future tragedies and improve outcomes for children.”

Battling Sex Trafficking in L.A. County

For two years now, Commissioner Catherine Pratt has been at the helm of Los Angeles County’s STAR Court program, which identifies and supports victims of sex trafficking who are under age and refers them to specialized help. In partnership with the Los Angeles County Probation Department, local law enforcement agencies, counseling groups and foster care agencies, Pratt has helped dozens of under-age girls receive help and guidance.

Battling Sex Trafficking in L.A. County

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Introduction


Commissioner Catherine Pratt has been at the helm of Los Angeles County’s STAR Court program, which identifies and supports victims of sex trafficking who are under age and refers them to specialized help. In partnership with the Los Angeles County Probation Department, local law enforcement agencies, counseling groups and foster care agencies, Pratt has helped dozens of under-age girls receive help and guidance. It is a challenging job, where the victims are often unwilling to participate in their own recovery due to fear or hopelessness. Through the STAR program, the court and probation received $650,000 per year in federal grant money for three years. The grant is set to expire at the end of 2014. Although it is a struggle, Pratt is optimistic that more people are realizing the prevalence of underage sex trafficking. This is particularly challenging, Pratt says, in a society where pimps are glorified in popular culture and where men who solicit sex with underage girls are rarely prosecuted. (She once bought the handbook on how to become a pimp, called Pimpology, under the self-help/relationships category at a local bookstore.) Pratt, who has worked in juvenile delinquency for seven years and dependency court prior to that for a decade, is hoping funding for the program will continue and will evolve into more services like specialized housing for these victims.

Q.

    

A.      For the first five years in court, I was in Compton and saw a lot of girls who had been involved in prostitution. Most of these kids would not have homes to go to. They would spend three to four weeks in juvenile hall and return every couple months. They were not going to school or building any relationships. I realized they were spending as much time in custody as kids in juvenile camps on serious felony violations. And then, Judge Donna Groman came to me and asked if I wanted to try out a program where we could think about different ways of working with these kids.

Q.

A.       It is very much like domestic violence. They say that women will often leave their husbands or spouses six or seven times before they are strong enough to stay away and this is similar.

Q.

     
A. In doing the research for the grant, I realized that of the arrests that happened in 2010, 85 percent were from South LA, Compton, Long Beach and Inglewood and 94 percent of the girls were African American. And, there is a big connection with foster care. These kids are pretty disenfranchised. Most don’t have a stable family. They have been in and out of group homes and foster homes and relative’s homes. So, I realized that the key was having them make a connection. That became my goal.

    
A.Well, by working with Saving Innocence, a mentoring program for the girls. Also, the way the foster care system works, when a girl leaves a group home [goes AWOL], the foster home or group home does not want her back. So we sat down with a handful of group home providers and said, “these kids will AWOL and you will take them back.” We would have the girls meet with the group home providers while they were in juvenile hall so that the girls could make some sort of connection with the group home before they moved in. Saving Innocence also meets with them and continues to be with them. That is the way to start making these personal connections and having these kids trust people in authority.

Q.

A.Yes, in the last six years, I have seen an increase in the violence. I think it is because it is a gang related business now. It is very lucrative. The estimates I have seen is that if one pimp has four girls working for him, he can make $1.5 million a year, tax free. And you can sell it ten times a night. With a drug you can only sell it once.

Q.

    
A.      Once a girl gets arrested, the undercover cops know her so the pimps rotate her between the Valley, Pomona, the Figueroa corridor and then Oakland, Vegas, San Diego and Los Angeles. The average age they start is between 12 and 14. By the time they come to me in court they are 14 or 15 so they have been doing it for a couple years, which is a long time. But these are girls arrested for street prostitution. A lot of it is done online and we haven’t figured out how to find those people..

Q.

A.The basic step is to say this is not a crime. If you are under the age of 18 then you don’t have the capacity for consent. If you are not old enough to consent to sex, how are you old enough to consent to sell sex? I think changing the law is a relatively easy thing and once there is the political will it can be done. The hard thing is how are we going to provide them with services? The funding just doesn’t exist for it.

Q.

  
A. The truth is that it is a very sticky cultural and political question. Once we start looking at who the customers are they are going to be a lot of normal everyday people and people who have high profile jobs. You are going to have to have a lot of political will to make sure these cases are prosecuted. In the six years that I have been dealing with underage prostitution cases, I have not seen one instance of a “John” arrested in a police report.

Q.

A.I would like there to be a lot more awareness of what this is and that we are letting our kids be used like this. These kids are not as invisible as we think they are. We just have to look.
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