Reaching for Hope In the Fight Against Human Trafficking

Nury (1)Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas joined Los Angeles Councilwoman Nury Martinez in a dialogue that focused on local efforts to prevent and end the sex trafficking of children.

“Our children are not for sale,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas told the audience at Reaching for Hope: Putting an End to Human Trafficking in the San Fernando Valley, held at California State University, Northridge (CSUN).

“We will raise awareness on all possible solutions going forward,” Councilwoman Martinez added.

They discussed how the county and city are teaming up to combat human trafficking, including the expansion of the First Responder Protocol, an innovative program that connects trafficking victims to medical and psychological services and safe housing within 72 hours of being identified by law enforcement.

Since August 2014, the Protocol has operated as a pilot in areas served by the Long Beach Police Department, and by the Century and Compton Stations of the Los Angeles Sheriffs Department. To date, more than 60 young people have been recovered and connected to life-saving services.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas filed a motion in November 2015 directing County departments to expand the Protocol countywide.

The event also featured a panel of legal and law enforcement experts and culminated in a panel discussion on healing and recovery for survivors of human trafficking.

Panelists included Judge Catherine Pratt, a commissioner with Compton’s Succeeding Through Achievement and Resilience (STAR) Court, Los Angeles Supervising City Attorney Richard Schmidt, and Lt. Marc Evans of the Los Angeles Police Department’s vice unit. A survivor of human trafficking also addressed the audience to talk about her experiences.

The event was sponsored by Councilwoman Martinez’ office, with support from Strength United and Journey Out, two non-profit organizations dedicated to assisting survivors of sexual abuse and violence.

“Within the United States, California has emerged as a magnet for sex trafficking of children,” Strength United executive director Kim Roth said. “Three of the nation’s 13 high-intensity child prostitution areas identified by the FBI are located in California: San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego metropolitan areas.”

“Given the challenges unique to commercially sexually exploited children, the efforts put forth by the panel presenters will help each of us improve how we identify and respond to those who need our help most.”


Human Trafficking Task Force Launched

task force pic

Determined to end modern day slavery, lawmakers, law enforcers, and advocates for victims have launched the Los Angeles Regional Human Trafficking Task Force.

Funded by a $1.5-million grant from the US Department of Justice, the Task Force brings together prosecutors, investigators, service agencies, victim advocates and other partners together to provide wraparound care to victims while ensuring strong investigations and prosecutions.

Every year, thousands of men, women and children are held captive physically, and sometimes emotionally, to be sold as cheap labor or sexual gratification.

HS5_0292“Our children are not for sale,” declared Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “This powerful showing of unity, collaboration, and strength is our latest and greatest tool to dismantle the trafficking of human beings in Los Angeles County.”

Based at the previous headquarters of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in Monterey Park, the task force includes resources from the County Sheriff’s, Probation, and Children and Family Services Departments. Other partners are the US Attorney’s Office, US Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation, California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Coalition to Abolish Slavery (CAST), and various community organizations.

“Working with state, local and federal partners, we seek to dismantle criminal enterprises and bring to justice traffickers as well as individuals who create the demand that sustains these crimes,” Sheriff Jim McDonnell said. “We will also develop new approaches aimed at rescuing young victims and addressing their needs in a victim-centered way.”

HS5_0363“Pure and simple, human trafficking is the cruel dehumanizing exploitation of the most vulnerable in our community,” he added. “The coercion and abduction and violation of our fellow human beings must end.”

Also present at the event were US Attorney Eileen Decker; Los Angeles County Supervisors Michael Antonovich and Hilda Solis; Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, CAST Executive Director and CEO Kay Buck, Raben Group Special Counsel on Human Rights Malika Saada Saar; and human trafficking survivors Carissa and Ima.


Supervisor Applauds Passage of Trafficking Law to Support Victims

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas applauded the passage of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (S. 178), which was recently signed into law by President Barack Obama.  The bill includes provisions to strengthen the enforcement, prosecution, and reporting of human trafficking crimes including child sex trafficking.

The new law also increases penalties on persons convicted of trafficking and creates a new fund for financing grants and programs to combat human trafficking and assist its victims, including a newly established grant program to help state and local governments implement such activities.

“There is no such thing as a child prostitute. We need to look at this issue of child sex trafficking for what it is: child abuse,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, who has championed the cause against trafficking for several years now. “This is the first federal law that specifically addresses domestic human trafficking and ends impunity for the buyers of child sex. I am grateful to our members of Congress, the advocates, in particular the Human Rights Project for Girls and the survivors, for their hard work in getting this bill passed.”

Los Angeles County is one of the epicenters of trafficking in the nation. This year, the Board of Supervisors approved more than $6 million in funding to bring more services to victims. In addition, the county has implemented a series of programs and services for victims to receive physical and mental health help, housing and other necessities. More than 7,000 Los Angeles County employees and other professionals have been trained to spot trafficking victims and to alert authorities.


Metro Unveils Campaign Against Human Trafficking


More than 10,000 employees of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority will be trained on how to spot potential victims of sex trafficking with a newly unveiled campaign, “Don’t Be Silent.”

As part of the campaign, 3,000 ads will go up on buses and rail cars, and 85,000 brochures will be placed in Metro’s customer centers, stations, buses and trains. The campaign will have a robust social media presence, and a QR code has been created that directs users to the LA Transit Watch app.

Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas, Don Knabe and Hilda Solis joined Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell and new Metro Chairman Phil Washington and Metro Board member Jackie Dupont-Walker at a press conference Friday to announce the new effort.

Sex trafficking is a $32-billion dollar business increasingly run by gangs. The average age of entry into the sex trade industry is 12 to 14 years old. Los Angeles is one of the epicenters of child trafficking.

unnamed“Every Los Angeles County resident needs to learn about this issue. It is a tragedy. It is a travesty,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “We assert in no uncertain terms that our children are not for sale.”

Encouraging the public to contact law enforcement and speak up about any suspicious activity that they may observe, Sheriff Jim McDonnell said the Sheriff’s Department will “continue to crack down not only on those who make a living on sex trafficking, but also on the buyers to create the demand that perpetuates the ongoing victimization of children in our community.”

More than 7,000 Los Angeles County employees and residents have been trained to spot and prevent sex trafficking. The County has allocated nearly $7 million to go towards prevention, education and services for young victims.

In addition, training will soon begin for motel workers to ensure trafficking is not occurring on their premises. Because so many people use the metro transit system daily, there are many opportunities to help and potentially save a life, said Metro Chief Executive Washington.

“It can occur anywhere in plain sight but Metro riders collectively have millions of eyes to spot and then report suspicious activity,” said Mr. Washington. “The worst thing a person can do is to see something, and stay silent.”

Victims and witnesses of human trafficking can report incidents to the Polaris Human Trafficking hotline at 888.373.7888 and the Sheriff’s hotline at 888.950.SAFE as well as the LA Metro Transit Watch smartphone app for iPhone and Android.