Board of Supervisors Approves Funding to Help Trafficked Children


The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has set aside nearly $7 million to address child sex trafficking as part of the 2015-2016 budget. The funds are expected to be used for sex trafficking prevention initiatives, programs and services including the creation of a specialized court for trafficked children in the foster care system to help stabilize them, provide comprehensive services, such as crisis counseling, educational classes, and advocacy to improve their chances of recovery.

In addition, the Board has asked for recommendations from the Departments of Children and Family Services, Health Services, Mental Health and Public Social Services on how best to serve children who are trafficked.

The commercial sexual exploitation of children is not only an international problem, but one also prevalent in Los Angeles. A large percentage of children that have been trafficked have also been in the child welfare system. Currently, children who have been trafficked and arrested are eligible to attend a special court called the STAR Court, or Succeeding Through Achievement and Resilience. Among the girls involved with the court, nearly 80 percent had prior contact with the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services.

“This funding shows our commitment as a board to address the issue of child sex trafficking. We are determined to do whatever we can to help these children escape the life of trauma and exploitation that they have been forced into,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “A specialized court for children in the foster care system is only one component of what we hope will be a comprehensive approach to bringing these children the specialized services and attention that they need.”

“I am very pleased to stand with my colleague Supervisor Ridley-Thomas in opening up the process that will strengthen dependency specialty court programs,” said Supervisor Hilda Solis.  “It’s important that we increase the number of attorneys who help children through the court process. We also plan to determine the appropriate solutions needed to support sexually exploited children.”

A dedicated court with a hearing officer, county counsel, child’s attorney, investigators and service providers  specially trained to recognize and understand the serious trauma, stages of change, and unique issues surrounding recovery and high probability of relapse would likely lead to better outcomes for these children.

In addition, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas has asked for a report back on how the county can track the magnitude of sexually exploited children within the County of Los Angeles and an assessment of the outcomes of the services rendered to this population including the impact of the STAR Court Program.

Supervisor Shows Support for New Federal Sex Trafficking Bill

Girl Traff

I would like to commend Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) for authoring the Combat Human Trafficking Act, which was introduced recently in the United States Senate. The bill seeks to penalize adults who buy sex from trafficking victims and strengthen victim’s rights. While many federal, state and local efforts have focused mainly on prosecuting the traffickers, it is time we start looking at the buyers who fuel this crime. After all, sex trafficking is a demand-driven industry.

The Combat Human Trafficking Act would ensure that federal law enforcement officials are properly trained to investigate and then prosecute these buyers. It also views those who are being trafficked for what they are: exploited women and children-not criminals.

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that up to 83 percent of sex trafficking victims are American citizens, and the average victim is first trafficked between ages 12 and 14.There are few topics more disturbing than the buying and selling of children for sex. Unfortunately, our society is still misinformed about this issue. Many still refer to it as prostitution. But, this is modern day slavery and a multi-billion dollar industry driven by unscrupulous adults.

We must put an end to this notion that people—mostly women, girls and boys—are commodities to be bought and sold. This bill will help protect victims while punishing the adults who profit and derive enjoyment from this despicable trade.

Helping Former Inmates Re-Enter Society Successfully

Life Skills

Helping former inmates re-enter society and avoid going back to jail can be challenging unless they receive support and services from agencies with proven track records.

And so, Los Angeles County Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe authored a plan to identify multi-year funding and develop a competitive bidding process for agencies that work with this population and have demonstrated success in keeping them from re-offending.

“Our county needs proven service providers to continue doing the work they do,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “The county benefits from their work and so we need to support them in a consistent and equitable way that takes into account the successful models they use. Reducing recidivism is important for public safety, it is cost effective and it is humane.”

Many individuals who have been incarcerated for violent, gang related crime are more likely to go back to jail upon their release because many have themselves been victims of violence in their communities and within their own families; most have spent time in the County’s foster care system and juvenile detention facilities; and they have significant substance abuse and mental health issues that make it difficult to transition well into a productive life.

However, there are promising service models out there that have had success in preventing recidivism. For example, a report from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) that studied the non-profit, gang intervention organization, Homeboy Industries, noted that Homeboy’s holistic approach to helping ex-offenders with job referrals, mental health counseling, housing options and skills training in an easy one-stop shop, has been largely successful. However, that model does not neatly fit into the requirements for government funding.

The Board of Supervisors has asked the Chief Executive’s office to work with the Department of Probation and County Counsel report back early next year with the best method to continually fund organizations that have proven to be successful.

County Unveils Pilot Program to Combat Sex Trafficking

Los Angeles County is moving forward to strengthen the safety net for children who have been victims of sex trafficking. After two years of work, county departments are working together to provide wraparound services for these young people.

“It is our job to protect our children,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “And we will not empower sick unscrupulous pimps and johns who buy and sell children on our streets to criminalize our children as prostitutes. Our children are victims needing our support.”

1MZ_0150The Supervisor joined Board Chairman Don Knabe and representatives of multiple county departments to unveil the first Los Angeles County pilot program to establish a first responder protocol for sex trafficking victims.

Where once young people picked up on sex-related charges were treated as “prostitutes,” both supervisors, emphasized that no child should be given the label.

“Changing the culture, especially in government, can be very difficult, as we all know,” Supervisor Knabe said, adding “but these girls, who may be a neighbor or may be a relative are being tortured with physical and sexual abuse.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation determined that Los Angeles is one of the nation’s 13 high intensity child prostitution areas, and it is estimated that, 3,000 children in the region are victims of trafficking. T average age these young people are forced or coerced onto the streets is between 12 and13 years-old, and increasingly, sex trafficking is a highly lucrative business run by gangs.

1MZ_0141With the new protocol in place, it is the county’s goal to see that underage victims of sex trafficking no longer are arrested, detained and released in what is often an unending cycle. With the paradigm shift, it is the goal of law enforcement, mental health officials, child protection agencies to surround the victim with care and treatment, ensuring, for example, that they are placed in a safe housing, enrolled in school and given proper physical and mental health services. And the program is only the first of many steps that will be coming to help these children.

The board of supervisors will receive quarterly updates on the results of the new system.

“The pilot is an important first step that establishes a strong response team that will be individualized—treating the needs of each victim, one child at a time,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “What we truly hope is that it creates a bond of trust between these children and the adults who do care about their welfare and have their best interests at heart. With trust, these children can heal. As they heal, they can begin to rebuild their young lives.”

Supervisors Approve Blue Ribbon Commission Recommendations

Hoping to dramatically improve the child welfare system in Los Angeles County, the Board of Supervisors agreed to move forward on the recommendations made by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection.

In particular, the board moved ahead with a key recommendation to establish an Office of Child Protection with a director, which would oversee all of the county agencies that are involved in the child welfare system. The motion supporting the commission’s recommendations was authored by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Gloria Molina. It establishes a transition team that will provide formal advice to the Board regarding recommendations for child safety until the new Office of Child Protection is created.

The transition team, which will begin meeting monthly starting July 1, will have nine members who are experts in child welfare issues and will include five members chosen by the Board of Supervisors, a representative from the Blue Ribbon Commission, Juvenile Court, the County’s Chief Executive Office and the Los Angeles County Commission for Children and Families.

After hearing testimony from committee members in front of a packed board room, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, who authored the original motion last year to create the Blue Ribbon Commission, was optimistic structural reform could finally occur.

“The Blue Ribbon Commission has made it clear in their recommendations that the Los Angeles County child welfare system is in a ‘state of emergency,’” said the Supervisor. “Today is the day to adopt the Blue Ribbon Commission recommendations. This is a concept whose time has come.”

Supervisor Molina noted that too much time has passed without true change.

“The recommendations are all feasible and practical and most importantly they will improve child safety’” she said “We can’t wait any longer. We must act now.”

Established in June 2013, the Blue Ribbon Commission came on the heels of the death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, who died last year as a result of horrific injuries from abuse. The commission, chaired by David Sanders, of the Casey Family Programs foundation, was made up of 10 child welfare experts appointed by each member of the Board of Supervisors.

They spent months interviewing officials and child advocates on how to improve the system and made 40 recommendations. Some of the recommendations include giving more money to relatives who care for children in foster care, providing better medical care for children removed from their homes and improving medical screening of infants who may be at risk.

Nearly a dozen foundations, several churches, advocates and organizations were present at the board hearing in support of the recommendations.

“This report looked beyond the frontlines of emergency response and included the safety of children,” said Janis Spires, chief executive of the Alliance for Children’s Rights. “It included mental health and child development needs and the need to support relatives who are the backbone of the child welfare system. We can’t put a short term price tag on protecting children in this county.”

Commissioner Leslie Gilbert Lurie urged the board to adopt all of the recommendations, rather than piecemeal.

“It is critical that the report be viewed by you holistically,” she said. “So that we can begin the process of sustainable reform.”

Click here for the final report from the Blue Ribbon Commission.

Hundreds March Against Child Trafficking

Rachel Fleming could not contain her tears as she watched hundreds of marchers make their way down Western Avenue to send a loud message to pimps and johns who buy and sell children for sex. As marchers chanted, “Our children are not for sale,” Fleming reflected on her own family’s trauma after her 15-year-old daughter, Brejouneay, was trafficked.

“I see all of this community support and I know I am not alone,” said Fleming, wiping her eyes. “I will tell my daughter that she is not alone. I will tell her that she can overcome this.”

The march, co-sponsored by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Los Angeles City Mayor Eric Garcetti, was organized to send a message of unity for all those who are fighting against the selling and buying of children for sex, as well as to let all adults who exploit children know that the world is watching.

Western Avenue is one of the prime corridors in Los Angeles where children as young as 12 are sold on the street by pimps and purchased by men who take the children to seedy motels to abuse them. It is estimated that in the United States, 100,000 children are trafficked for sex. It is a $32 billion industry increasingly run by gangs.

The march was a welcome sign to Lloydia Smart, owner of L.A. Tropical American Cuisine Belizean restaurant on Western Avenue.

“This is long overdue,” she said as she held up a flyer in solidarity. “We have kids we see on this street that are 13 and 14 years old and guys picking them up.”

Added her cousin Yvonne Godoy, “You’d be surprised because these are family men in suits, nice cars. Do they not have a heart? How could they do this to these girls and then go home to their wives?”

The march is the second one hosted by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, who is determined to keep a spotlight on the issue.March 2 FInal

“Someone once said that we can turn the darkness before us into light, and make the rough places into level ground,” he told the marchers as they prepared to set out. “Let us march down this stretch of Western together with dignity, but also determination. We are putting these predators on notice.  Block by block. Life by Life. We are taking back our streets, taking a moral stand and refusing to look away.”

Added Mayor Garcetti: “There are more slaves on the face of this earth than ever before in our history. They are in the mini-malls, in people’s homes, in massage parlors. To the pimps and solicitors, this community warns you, your time is up. This issue is a priority of your mayor and your police department.”

A bevy of elected officials, including District Attorney Jackie Lacey, Sen. Ted Lieu, Sen. Holly Mitchell, Compton Mayor Aja Brown, Human rights advocate and attorney Sandra Fluke and Los Angeles Councilmembers Curren Price and Nury Martinez, joined in to speak about their own efforts in the battle against sex trafficking.March 3 Final

District Attorney Lacey mentioned her office’s new program which seeks to help victims out of the life rather than incarceration.

“We will no longer treat these kids like they are criminals,” she said, and then as a warning shot to predators she added, “If you are out there abusing our children for sex, we are looking for your behind. We will not look the other way.”



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:

Funds Approved to Help Victims of Child Sex Trafficking

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a two-year, $200,000 grant for the non-profit organization, Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) to coordinate much needed victim services such as crisis intervention, mental and physical health services, education and training and legal assistance for youngsters ages 12-24.

Funding for the grant, proposed by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, comes from the County Children’s Trust Fund, which is accrued from the $4 fee applied for certified copies of birth certificates. The CAST program would work in partnership with the Los Angeles County Probation Department and the Department of Children and Family Services, the agencies currently creating a county-wide systematic approach to use when they encounter children caught up in the sex trade.

The CAST plan will be piloted in the Second District, which has one of the largest documented concentrations of child trafficking cases in the county.  Sex trafficking is a $32 billion dollar business increasingly run by gangs. The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that 100,000 children in theUnited Statesare sold for sex each year, with the average age of entry into the sex trade industry being 12 to 14.

“The sexual exploitation of children in Los Angeles is growing at a rapid pace,” said Kay Buck, executive director of CAST.  “Often, these children come from abusive homes, foster care and have mental and substance abuse problems. They also carry records due to the crimes they are forced to commit when they are exploited. Helping these children requires a coordinated response by all the agencies who are working with them. I am grateful for the vision and leadership of Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.  Together, we can and will find a way to keep the children in LA safe from exploitation.”

“CAST’s work helping all victims of human trafficking is internationally recognized,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “Their efforts inLos Angeleswill help set a standard for how we help and support these children who are victimized by unscrupulous adults. I look forward to seeing their work in action in the Second District.”

Many Kids in Need of Adoption

Nearly 600 children of all ages in Los Angeles County are looking for  permanent and loving families to take them in. These kids cannot safely live with their birth families due to abuse, neglect or abandonment. Most have been shuttled time and  again from one temporary home to the next without ever finding that one family to call their own.

The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services has never experienced such a shortage of foster families and is looking for adoptive families who want to bring these children into their lives. As part of their efforts, the department has created a website featuring available youngsters.

Many are siblings like Jeylyn, 12, who is described as a calm and obedient big brother to little sisters Kirsten and Keymani, both of whom love to play with dolls and jump rope.  There are others like Jasmine, a 14-year-old who has gone through many traumas in her young life and wishes she could find a permanent, loving home; then there is 16-year-old Jeremias, known as Jerry, who would love to have a positive role model and extra-curricular activities to help keep him grounded.

But all of the children have one thing in common: they are looking for love.

For more information please visit here: