Protocol to Protect Sex Trafficking Victims

As Los Angeles County announced progress in combatting the commercial sexual exploitation of children and youth, the Board of Supervisors approved a motion aimed at building on the success of the First Responder Protocol which, during its first four years, led to the recovery of 361 young people from traffickers.

Authored by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Janice Hahn, the motion called for an external evaluation and longitudinal study of the Protocol to maintain consistency in practice and fidelity to the model as it is scaled up.

“The First Responder Protocol has made an undeniable difference in the lives of hundreds of exploited and abused young people,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “While it is disheartening to learn of the history of trauma and maltreatment that has plagued so many of these children and teens, it reminds us that there are multiple opportunities during a child’s life for any one of us to report abuse, provide support, and prevent or intervene in the pernicious crime of child sex trafficking.”

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, center, with LA County Department of Children and Family Services Division Chief Ed Fithyan; LA County Probation Department Child Sex Trafficking Unit Director Michelle Guymon; Dr. Carly Dierkhising of CalState LA; and Atty. Kate Walker Brown with the National Center for Youth Law after they provided the Board of Supervisors with a report on the First Responder Protocol.

“As this innovative Protocol enters its fifth year, it is rightfully held up as an exemplar for other jurisdictions,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added. “I believe it is worthy of an outside evaluation – one that will validate its findings and strengthen its effectiveness as it is scaled up.”

The Protocol was the result of a motion approved by the Board. Launched in 2014, it defines key steps that law enforcement, County safety net agencies and community-based partners should take within 72 hours of coming into contact with a potential victim of commercial sexual exploitation. Instead of re-traumatizing them by arresting them for crimes committed by pimps and johns, the Protocol diverts these children and youth from incarceration, and connects them to safety, stability and hope.

Given the physical and mental trauma they have experienced, the Protocol focuses on meeting their immediate needs and supporting them to achieve long-term safety and stability through intensive wrap-around services, including making sure they have a community-based advocate and a team of other professionals who remain in their life for a minimum of 90 days, but sometimes for several years.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas has long been an advocate for these children and youth and, in 2015, authored a motion that led to the creation of the Integrated Leadership Team (ILT), a collaboration among several County departments now tasked with overseeing and implementing the County’s response and approach to their commercial sexual exploitation. The ILT’s findings in its report on the first four years of the protocol include:

  • 361 children and teenagers were recovered from August 14, 2014 to August 14, 2018, some more than once – one youth was recovered nine different times;
  • the average age at first recovery was just under 16 years old, and the youngest victim was 11 years old;
  • 359 are girls; 2 are boys;
  • 85 percent had one or more prior child welfare referrals;
  • 71 percent are African-American, 18 percent are Latino or Latina, and 10 percent are white;
  • 65 percent received a medical evaluation within the first 72 hours after recovery;
  • the immediate wrap-around services resulted in a significant drop in the number of youth who ran away once they were recovered. With continued support and engagement, only 12 percent disappeared after the first 72 hours.

The Protocol was piloted in areas served by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Compton and Century stations, and by the Long Beach Police Department. As of July 2018, the protocol was fully implemented at all Sheriff’s stations and at all divisions of the Los Angeles Police Department. Representatives from multiple jurisdictions, including the Counties of San Diego and Alameda, and the states of Alabama, Texas, and Washington have met with protocol personnel to learn how to implement the Protocol in their respective jurisdictions.

In the meantime, County departments and community organizations will continue working together to ensure that Los Angeles County remains a transformative leader in how the country serves youth and families who have been affected by commercial sexual exploitation.

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