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.”
The 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.
With 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.”