Anti-Sex Trafficking Campaign Begins

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas joined the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST), Polaris, Clear Channel Outdoor, Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe and Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson to announce an awareness campaign against human trafficking in the greater Los Angeles area.

The campaign, which is featured on 25 digital billboards, 20 traditional billboards and 20 transit shelter posters throughout Los Angeles County,  includes the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s 24-hour, multi-lingual hotline for victims and community members. The hotline is operated by Polaris and the ad space was donated by Clear Channel.

HS4_0160“I would like to commend Clear Channel Outdoor, Polaris and CAST for helping combat sex trafficking in our communities,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “We need everyone to take notice. These billboards will help spread the word, will educate and raise awareness so that victims know they are not alone and that there is a way out.”

Human trafficking is the world’s fastest growing criminal activity – generating an estimated $150-billion a year. The crime has forced approximately 20.9 million people worldwide to live in modern day slavery, including hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children here in the United States. Los Angeles has become a top hub for modern slavery and human trafficking, making the fight to end the crime locally County important on a national scale.

“These young men and women are somebody’s sons and daughters,” said Buck, of CAST.   “As a community we need to look out for them.”

Polaris and Clear Channel Outdoor have forged a national partnership previously. Beginning in Philadelphia in 2012, the two organizations have since supported campaigns with various anti-trafficking organizations in Baltimore, Las Vegas, Miami, Milwaukee, New Jersey, New York, Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle, and across the entire state of Texas.  In addition, they formed a partnership two years ago with County Supervisor Don Knabe and the MTA for their first anti-human trafficking campaign in L.A. This marks the second anti-human trafficking supported by Supervisor Knabe and Clear Channel this year.

“It is important that all Los Angeles County residents learn to recognize the signs of human trafficking and do their part to report and combat this horrific crime,” said Supervisor Knabe

Terry Crews, Polaris Ambassador, actor, and former NFL player said that education also needs to happen among the public—especially men who fuel the demand.

“We must change the mindset that allows trafficking to continue,” he said.

To get help or to report a suspected instance of human trafficking, please call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 or text BeFree (233733). Hotline Call Specialists are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to take reports from anywhere in the country related to potential trafficking victims, suspicious behaviors, and/or locations where trafficking is suspected to occur.

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. The 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.”

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.”

Below is a series of videos about the issue of sex trafficking in Los Angeles County:



Preventing Child Sex Trafficking in Foster Care

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More than 50 percent of the children in Los Angeles County who become victims of sex trafficking are in the child welfare system. Although county social workers have been trained to spot the signs that show vulnerable young people are being exploited by pimps and predators, foster families and foster agency officials are not routinely taught important skills: how to prevent a child from being trafficked or recruited, catching the signs if they are trafficked and what do to rescue a child from a life of prostitution.

The Board of Supervisors took a step toward closing that training gap Tuesday, asking the Department of Children and Family Services to draft a proposal to ensure that foster family agencies and group homes who care for DCFS-placed children train their staff and certified foster parents complete annual training to understand telltale signs and halt the cycle of abuse.

“We will continue to advocate and move as far as we can to eradicate this problem,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who co-authored the motion with Chairman Don Knabe. “It is a moral crisis with true consequences in the lives of these children. Enough is enough.”

DCFS Director Philip Browning told the board he supports training and education of foster families and the agencies.

It is estimated that in Los Angeles County, 3,000 children are victims of trafficking. The average age for a person to enter that life is between 12-13 years-old. Increasingly, sex trafficking is a highly lucrative business run by gangs.

But sometimes the signs are hard to notice.

“As a trained clinician, I missed the signs,” said Dr. Barbara Hernandez, vice president of community service at the Crittenton Service for Children and Families. “You think you know what you are looking for, but you do not. Training and education on this issue leads to preventing children from falling through the cracks.”

Troubling signs and signals can include sudden prosperity, with new cell phones, new shoes even lipstick, as well as the use of coded language for life on the streets. Some group homes are recruitment spots for traffickers.

“Any child their age has no income, so if they don’t have the means to buy it, that is always a red flag,” said Rachel Thomas of Sowers Education Group, which works with survivors of sex trafficking. Foster parents and foster agency workers must also be familiar with the mind control techniques that pimps use to entice children into selling their bodies, such as convincing a child that she should be paid to have sex with people and be proud of making $1,000 a night.

“Education is inoculation,” said Thomas. “Children are lured and trapped. Once they are in and are committed to subculture of exploitation, there are deeper levels.”

In addition to pushing for educating foster agencies and foster families on sex trafficking, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas is partnering with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to sponsor a march to increase awareness and to send a message that children are not for sale. The march will be held on April 26 along Western Avenue beginning at 9:30 a.m. To register, please click here.

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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: