Posters to Aid Victims of Trafficking

Two years ago, as they gathered around a conference table at the Coalition to Abolish Trafficking and Slavery, a group of sex trafficking survivors decided that posting a hotline number in bars, truck stops, massage parlors and emergency rooms would be a lifeline for victims seeking help. It would be a sign for a Good Samaritan who is ready to intervene.

And so they wrote letters and brought the idea to legislators in Sacramento. The result of their efforts is a state law that now requires these businesses and facilities to place a poster in a place that is visible.

“As a survivor myself, I believe that the outreach with the posters is critical in helping people identity victims of human trafficking and making it easier for victims themselves to seek help,” said Maria Suarez, an advocate for other victims.

This week, advocates, survivors and elected officials, gathered to mark the official launch of the campaign poster, with the number 1-888-539-2373 in bright green font for all to see.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles City Council Member Nury Martinez and Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer all showed their support for raising awareness about the issue of sex trafficking at a press conference held at the National Council of Jewish Women in Los Angeles.

“Today, we celebrate not only the launch of the poster distribution, but we also celebrate the power of survivor advocacy and grass roots initiatives,” said Kay Buck, CEO and Executive Director of CAST. “Across the nation, states which have enacted public posting laws have seen significant increases in calls to human trafficking hotlines.  When victims have access to this information, they will call, and their lives will be changed because of it.”

Stating his outrage at the grown men who profit from and exploit children for sex, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said trafficking is the “moral issue of our time.”

“These are victims, not prostitutes,” he said. “These posters are a low risk, non-confrontational way to take action. We know that these Johns and pimps have their own language, special codes and phrases to signal that they want to sell or purchase children for sex. And with these posters, we will let the victims know we will have our own code. A code says we care and want to help.”

Although the notice only will affect businesses and facilities in the city of Los Angeles, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Knabe will soon introduce a motion for businesses and facilities throughout the county.

Volunteers started a city-wide, door-to-door poster distribution campaign.  In addition, the city attorney’s office has spearheaded the mailing of an enforcement notice so that businesses know that the city of L.A. is taking this new law seriously.

Added City Attorney Mike Feuer, “This notice has had meaningful impact in other states. This is a cause we have pledged to join.”

Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST) (888-539-2373) and the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (888-373-7888).

Click here to view the motion passed by the Board of Supervisors.

More information about the SB1193 Implementation Taskforce can be found at

More Help Coming to Trafficking Victims

Instead of arresting children who are bought and sold for sex on prostitution-related charges, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office has launched a new program for juveniles in Compton and Sylmar that seeks to help them get out of the life.

The First Step Program, will have a dedicated team of prosecutors, law enforcement officers, children’s services providers and victim’s advocacy groups identify children who have been trafficked for sex.

Instead of being arrested and sent through the juvenile justice system, these children will be brought into a 10 week program that offers mental health services, substance abuse treatment, educational programs and shelter.

“We in law enforcement mostly ignored the underlying issues,” said District Attorney Jackie Lacey at a press conference to announce the program. “Fortunately we are changing the way we view these crimes. We believe that minors that engage in sex for pay are victims not criminals. We believe we should help these children, not detain them.”

At the press conference, Lacey was flanked by interim Los Angeles County Sheriff John Scott, high ranking members of the Los Angeles Police Department and representatives from victim advocacy groups Saving Innocence, Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), Valley Trauma Center as well as the YWCA.

The program will be rolled out in Sylmar and Compton due to the high number of children arrested in those areas. Minors diverted to the program must agree to participate and when they complete it, they will not have a record of arrest. Although the district attorney’s office would like for the victims to cooperate with law enforcement so they can arrest pimps and Johns, it will not be required.

“We hope to save children’s lives,” said Lacey. “And also identify and prosecute the traffickers who exploit these children.”

The news conference capped a recent series of positive steps being taken at the state and local level to combat sex trafficking. The City of Los Angeles will begin posting a hotline number for victims in establishments like bars and emergency rooms, with Los Angeles County soon following suit. Four bills related to sex trafficking soon will be introduced in the state legislature; they call for stiffer penalties for Johns who solicit children for sex, enhancing penalties for gang members involved in trafficking and to expand wiretap authorization for people suspected of human trafficking.

In addition, the Board of Supervisors approved a motion authored by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to fund CAST for a pilot program to increase services for young victims. And recently, a community based service provider, Restoration Diversion Services, celebrated its grand opening to help victims along Long Beach Boulevard in Compton receive counseling and GED certification.

“We are seeing an unprecedented level of cooperation among leaders in California and Los Angeles to combat the issue of human trafficking,” said Kay Buck, CEO of CAST. “It is exciting and reassuring to see this much commitment toward helping our most vulnerable victims in society get out of a life of being exploited by modern-slavery.”

Added Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, “We must bring an end to the sexual exploitation of children that is happening everyday on our streets. We are sending a message loud and clear to the victims that we are here to help. We are also determined to bring severe punishment to the pimps and Johns that perpetrate these heinous crimes.”

For a look at a one-on-one interview with District Attorney Jackie Lacey see the video below:

A Haven for Victims of Human Trafficking

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 do 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 that 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.