Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Knabe Seek County Amicus Brief for State Prison Compromise

Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Don Knabe called on the county to take legal action to support a compromise to reduce the state’s prison population reached by Gov. Jerry Brown and the leaders of the state Legislature.

Brown, California Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Speaker of the Assembly John Perez came to an agreement Monday, offering to spend more money on rehabilitation efforts if a panel of federal judges will extend an end-of-the-year deadline to release thousands of inmates.

In a motion read into the record Tuesday at the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting and to be voted on next week, Supervisors Knabe and Ridley-Thomas also call for the board to direct county counsel to file briefs in federal court to support efforts to truncate the prison pipeline through increased rehabilitation services.

The state is under federal court order to reduce its prison population by December, and the agreement calls for allocating a portion of the $800 million slated for leasing cells in private prisons over three years, instead to drug, mental health and rehabilitation programs, if the court permits.

Since the state government shifted oversight of nonviolent prison parolees to local county governments in October 2011, Los Angeles and other counties have struggled to balance public safety concerns while meeting the rehabilitative needs of thousands of prison parolees. A significant increase in that population, which could occur should the federal courts not accept the compromise and insists on the release of approximately 9,000 inmates, would pose significant public safety and other challenges for local governments.

“This compromise is to be applauded,” said Ridley-Thomas, chairman of the board of supervisors. “From a policy perspective we simply cannot continue to over-utilize incarceration as our sole public safety solution. It’s not practical, it’s not economical and it’s not moral. Reducing our prison population and halting recidivism will require us to adopt strategies for rehabilitation as well.”

Supervisors Ask State to Stiffen Penalties for Adults Soliciting Sex from Children

As part of an ongoing effort against sex trafficking of children, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has called on state legislators to dramatically stiffen penalties for adults convicted of soliciting and having sex with children. Acting on a motion sponsored by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe, the board asked the state to substantially raise fines so that California becomes the most expensive state in the nation in which to be convicted of soliciting sex from children. The same motion also calls for improved services and treatment for the victims.

Several speakers addressed the board about the ongoing problem of child sex trafficking and the challenges of cracking down on so-called “Johns,” including District Attorney Jackie Lacey, Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, Compton Mayor Aja Brown, the head of the LA County Probation Department’s sex trafficking unit Michelle Guymon as well as a survivor, Jessica Midkiff. Midkiff said she was groomed for work on the streets at age 11 and escaped shortly before turning 21.

“This motion represents a change in our view as to who are the true victims of these crimes and who are the true criminals,” said Lacey. “This motion addresses the market. That “John” who is out there trolling for a child should be treated more harshly by the system. If you are out there specifically looking for sex with a child you should not be treated as if you’re out there looking for sex with an adult.”

Chairman Ridley-Thomas announced that California State Senator Darrell Steinberg, Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell and Assemblyman Ted Lieu have indicated their support for a state bill addressing the demand side of child sex trafficking. In addition, in accordance with a request from the Los Angeles District Attorney, the motion asks that the law be amended so that not knowing a victim’s age cannot be used as a legal defense.

“When adults engage in sexual acts with children it should be called what it is: statutory rape,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “These are children, and children cannot consent. There have been strong efforts to appropriately punish sex traffickers, and there are efforts afoot to provide more services and treatment to the victims – mostly girls. But what’s missing from this equation are efforts to halt the demand for these children and meaningful consequences for their predators; that’s what we’re doing today.”

Supervisor Knabe said: “We have a good opportunity now, as the new legislative season in Sacramento is gearing up, to continue to promote awareness of this horrific crime and develop effective legislation to help the victims and go after the scumbags who purchase and sell girls for sex,” he said. “We must address the “demand” side of this crime and make the penalties severe enough so that these “Johns” don’t continue to be nameless and free of any criminal record, while the girls are criminalized. No 12-year-old little girl is choosing this life and we must do everything we can to protect them.”

Every day, children – primarily girls – as young as 10 years-old are being coerced and sold into prostitution in Los Angeles County and in counties throughout the state. According to experts in the field, the average life expectancy of these children once they enter the sex trade is seven years, due to the ravages of HIV/AIDS and the violence to which they are regularly subjected. At the low end, a victim could make $3,500 a week while some victims earn as much as $1,000 a day, making child sex trafficking a highly lucrative business increasingly run by gangs.

“Like narcotics, we’re seeing the proliferation of sex trafficking being put forth by the gangs. We’re seeing girls as young as nine or 10,” said McDonnell. “The pimps set the minimum for them to make, they stay out there until they do or they’re beaten.”

The men who solicit sex from children, however, often are not arrested and prosecuted, and even when they are, typically face only a proverbial slap on the wrist. The motion, asks lawmakers to amend the state penal code to make soliciting sex with a minor a felony. It also requires the “customers” to register as sex offenders and increases the fine from $1,000 to $10,000. It calls on law enforcement to refocus its priorities and actively arrest and prosecute these predators.

“The buyers of sex can be anyone,” said Guymon. “They are professionals, tourists, the diversity of buyers allows them to blend into our communities. The majority are men, usually they are married, hold a good job and have an average to high IQ.” Evidence suggests that predators are seeking to have sex with younger girls who are perceived to be both healthier and more vulnerable.

Helping the survivors and changing the perception of young girls who are trafficked is essential, said Midkiff.

“For every teenage girl there were 20 adult customers per night who were purchasing her. This equals up to 140 customers per week for one single girl,” she said. “As long as sex buyers are prowling the streets and lurking in the internet demanding sex without any perceived consequences, we will not curtail this problem.”

Freedom School Program Liberates Kids in Probation Camp

Marquise, 16, never enjoyed going to school. The teen, angry and often in trouble, ultimately landed at one of the county’s juvenile probation camps. Life was not looking good for him. But then he was introduced to the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools program at Camp Afflerbaugh in La Verne, one of 18 juvenile probation camps operated by Los Angeles County. The five week academic enrichment program, which is based on the state curriculum and stresses literacy, builds self-esteem and a love of learning, was totally unfamiliar and at first Marquise was skeptical.

The change in mindset, however, came immediately. The youths in the camp, ages 13 to 17, suddenly found that learning could be fun. They began their day at 8 a.m. sharp with a 30-minute activity called Harambee, a Swahili word for pulling together, to sing and dance and read—something completely different from the somber, punitive atmosphere commonly found in a probation camp.

Within a few days, Marquise began to look forward to Harambee.

“It brings my spirit up,” he said, smiling widely.

Also, he began reading books—something he never enjoyed before. His favorite was Mexican White Boy, by Matt de la Peña about a young boy who is always an outsider and has never known his father. Through reading, Marquis realized he was not alone.

“That boy didn’t have a dad either,” he said. “Reading became something to do to keep me out of trouble.”

Since 1995, more than 100,000 children nationwide have enrolled in the Children’s Defense Fund’s Freedom Schools and more than 14,000 college students and young adult staff have been trained to lead the groups. Usually held in mainstream schools, the five week pilot program at camps Fred C. Miller in Malibu and Afflerbaugh in LaVerne is the first of its kind in California. The philosophy is: “I Can and Must Make a Difference in My: Self, Family, Community, Country, and World, with Hope, Education and Action.”

The results speak for themselves.

Camp educators and probation officers started seeing fewer fights, fewer suspensions and more interest in the classroom. Attitude among the youths evolved from wary and angry to openness and with an increase in self-confidence.

“Before Freedom Schools, it was the Mexicans versus the blacks,” said David, 16. “But now it’s like it is all of us.”

Before the Freedom School program began, the youngsters were told not to speak above a whisper; now they were encouraged raise their voices in chants, songs and raps; before, the guards would treat them like adversaries; now they were embraced and treated with respect.

“The kids are enjoying it and like what it is bringing to them,” said Alberto Ramirez, Director of Residential Treatment Services Bureau at the camps. “Their relationship to the staff is moving in a positive direction. That benefits the kids and also the staff.”

Ramirez warned however, that much work still needed to be done. At any moment, a young man could say or do something that could trigger a fight. And keeping the kids on track will be a challenge when they are sent back out to the schools and neighborhoods where they first landed in trouble.

Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who has advocated for educational reforms at the camps and sponsored Freedom Schools in his district for the past four years, said the Freedom School’s emphasis on literacy and learning is one of the most effective ways to change a youngster’s life.

“The message of the Freedom Schools is so affirming and empowering that it was important to bring that to the probation camps,” he said. “The salvation for probation is education. The best opportunity for these youngsters to turn their lives around is to educate them.”

The hope is to continue with the Freedom School program—or at least Harambee—year-round in the camps. The Freedom School model complements the Road to Success Academies implemented by the Los Angeles County Office of Education, which emphasize interactive learning and positive feedback rather than punitive measures to educate youths at the county’s probation camps.

Other projects to increase educational opportunities for young people in camps are in the works. They include the Camp Kilpatrick Replacement Project, which seeks to replace that juvenile probation camp with a more rehabilitative, evidence-based approach to juvenile incarceration similar to programs developed in Missouri. In addition, there are efforts underway to find effective ways for youths to receive support and guidance after they are released from camps.

For now, these five weeks at Camp Afflerbaugh’s Freedom School have given some of the young men a second chance.

“I used to get Ds and Fs in school,” said David, 16. “Now I want my family to know I get Bs and Cs. And I want to go to college and become a counselor so I can help other kids learn how to read.

Carson Residents Swap Guns for Gifts

Los Angeles residents continue to turn in their guns for gift certificates. In a recent Guns for Gifts exchange sponsored by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, residents happily opened their car trunks to hand over their weapons to Sheriff’s deputies. In exchange they received gift cards to Target or Ralphs Market. Several elected officials from the city of Carson as well as Los Angeles County Board of Supervisor’s Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, whose district includes Carson, were on hand to encourage residents to turn in their weapons and instead use the gift cards to buy food for their families or toys for their children.

[raw] Gun owners received $50 for a non-operational firearm, $100 for a handgun and $200 for an assault weapon resulting in a total of $16,850 in gift cards being distributed throughout the day. The collected guns will be melted at GERDAU Steel Mill and recycled into rebar for construction.

“It’s simple. Firearms are a threat to public safety,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “Nothing good comes from the point of a gun and I commend these residents for surrendering their firearms.”


Seven Second District Neighborhoods to Celebrate National Night Out

[raw]Seven communities in the Second District will be organizing local events to promote peaceful collaboration between neighborhood residents and law enforcement. The events are the culmination of National Night Out, a year-long national community campaign.

“In the wake of Trayvon Martin’s racial profiling and unnecessary and untimely death, it is more important than ever to bring residents and local law enforcement together, to not only create safe, peaceful and empowered communities, but also to clearly delineate the ways in which citizens and law enforcement should best work together,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas.

The first National Night Out took place on Tuesday, August 7th 1984, and began an effort to promote community involvement in crime prevention. That first year, 2.5 million Americans took part across 400 communities in 23 states.

National Night Out 2013, now in its 30th year, is expected to be the largest to date, surpassing last year’s numbers, when 37.5 million people in 15,704 communities from all 50 states, U.S. territories, Canadian cities, and military bases worldwide participated.

The event now serves as a catalyst for neighborhood transformation.

Along with turning on the traditional outside lights and keeping front porch vigils, most participating cities and towns celebrate with a variety of festive events, such as block parties, cookouts, parades, festivals, safety fairs and youth events. National Project Coordinator, Matt Peskin said, “This is a night for America to stand together and promote awareness, safety, and neighborhood unity. National Night Out showcases the importance of police-community partnerships and citizen involvement in our fight for a safer nation.”

Peskin added: “While the one night is certainly not an answer to crime, drugs and violence, National Night Out represents the kind of spirit, energy and determination to help make neighborhoods a safer place year round. The night celebrates safety and crime prevention successes and works to expand and strengthen programs for the next 364 days.”

Click here to download the flyers.

[/raw] Tuesday, August 6, 2013

LYNWOOD Century Station
MLK between Bullis Road and Hulme Avenue
11330 Bullis Road, Lynwood, 90262
6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Station (323) 568-4787
City Staff (310) 603-0220 ext. 506

1621 S. Alameda Street Compton, 90220
7:00pm to 9:00pm
Station (310) 605-5500

Youth Activity League (In front)
7901 S. Compton Avenue at Antwerp
Los Angeles, 90002
5:00pm to 8:00pm
Station (323) 586-7250

WISEBURN South LA Station
13443 Oceangate Avenue
Del Aire/Hawthorne, 90250
4:00pm to 8:00pm
Station (323) 242-8784

Marina Del Rey Station Personnel
LADERA PARK (Upper Outdoor Recreation Area)
6027 Ladera Park Avenue
Los Angeles, 90056
5:00pm to 8:00pm
Station (310) 410-7604

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

21356 S. Avalon Blvd.
Carson, 90745
6:00p.m. to 9:00pm
Station (310) 847-8386

Saturday, August 10, 2013

905 E. El Segundo Blvd., Los Angeles, 90059
9:00am to 3:00pm
Station (310) 965-8659
Century Station

Supervisor Urges DOJ to Uphold Trayvon Martin’s Civil Rights

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas called on the Department of Justice to fulfill its mission and defend the civil rights of Trayvon Martin—and by extension all Americans.

He noted in the letter that George Zimmerman’s acquittal by a Florida jury for second degree murder and manslaughter should not absolve him of Trayvon Martin’s wrongful death. Federal intervention can do what the Florida court did not do which is to squarely address the issue of race and the role that it played in the wrongful death of young Trayvon Martin.

Federal civil rights statutes allow for the criminal prosecution of ordinary citizens when racial motivation results in bodily injury. The Florida jury was not asked to answer whether Trayvon Martin’s fundamental civil right to walk down the street was violated by George Zimmerman. The answer to this question, wrote Chairman Ridley-Thomas, is unfinished business.

“I understand that civil rights enforcement is a critical priority for President Barack Obama’s administration,” he wrote. “The mission of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division is to protect and defend the civil rights of all individuals. As such, I respectfully request that the Department of Justice fulfill its mission.”

Probation Camps Launch Freedom Schools Pilot Program

More than 160 boys in two Los Angeles County juvenile probation camps have been selected to participate in the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools program, an innovative educational program that stresses writing, reading, self-esteem and the joy of learning from June 24 to July 26.

[vsw id="47882555" source="vimeo" width="610" height="400" autoplay="no"]

The nonprofit Children’s Defense Fund, founded by Marian Wright Edelman, a national leader in children’s advocacy, has reached more than 90,000 youth nationwide through its Freedom Schools program. The program at Miller High School in Malibu and Afflerbaugh High School in the City of LaVerne is the first of its kind in California. At the Freedom School camps, boys participate in interactive learning by reading out loud, singing and learning critical thinking skills.

The Children’s Defense Fund, which created Freedom Schools in 1995, is partnering with the Los Angeles County Office of Education, which provides the educational programming within the camps, the county Probation Department which supervises the camps, and the Office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. Together, Camps Miller and Afflerbaugh serve approximately 160 young boys ranging in ages between 14 and 18. LA County’s incarcerated population is approximately 60 percent Latino, 30 percent African American and 5 percent other.

“At these sites, young people whose lives have been interrupted and affected by crises, will be given more attention, consistent and enthusiastic feedback for their learning achievements,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “As their education improves, these young men will begin to see their potential and will rise to higher expectation levels. This is good for them but also for our society.”

Central Juvenile Hall (CJH) facility in Los Angeles. Photo by Richard Ross (

The Freedom Schools Program at Miller and Afflerbaugh is part of a broader effort to reform education at the Los Angeles County probation camps. It complements the Road to Success Academies implemented by LACOE, which emphasize interactive learning and positive feedback rather than punitive measures to educate youths. Additionally, the Freedom Schools program reflects a cultural shift in how youths in the county juvenile justice system are rehabilitated.

“The expansion of CDF Freedom Schools into juvenile detention facilities is a critical development for a country that cares about its children and youth —especially those who are most at risk and in need,” said Wright Edelman.

Sheriff’s Department needs Civilian Oversight

In a recent editorial regarding allegations of corruption at the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles Times called for the Board of Supervisors to quickly install an inspector general.  In his spot-on response to the Times editorial board, noted civil rights attorney, Samuel Paz, emphasizes that equally necessary is the establishing of a civilian oversight panel.  The full text of Paz’ letter is below.

L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca, seen here in October speaking with reporters at Men's Central Jail, has been harshly criticized by a onetime trusted aide. (Reed Saxon / Associated Press via LA Times)

By R. Samuel Paz

The Times’ editorial Thursday on the dysfunction at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department was only half right in concluding that the recent spat between Sheriff Lee Baca and former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka “should serve as a catalyst to speed along the Board of Supervisors in hiring an independent inspector general to oversee the department,” as recommended by the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence.

What is missing is the recommendation by the Kolts Commission in 1992 that the county should also create a permanent civilian oversight panel to be the eyes and ears of the public. Such oversight would operate in harmony with the new inspector general, similar to the Board of Police Commissioners that oversees the Los Angeles Police Department‘s inspector general.

The need for civilian oversight of the Sheriff’s Department became apparent in 1992 after a wave of excessive-force incidents and deaths resulted in public outrage and several revelations by The Times and other newspapers, not unlike what we have seen in the last two years with L.A. County jails.  Then, the Board of Supervisors voted to create the Kolts Commission to review the department and make recommendations to stop the violence.

The Kolts Commission then, just as the jails commission now, rejected the sheriff’s argument that civilian oversight was unnecessary because, as an elected official, he was accountable to the public. The commission noted: “Indeed, we know of no major metropolitan police department in the United States which is not subject to some civilian oversight — except the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.”

Its recommendation was unequivocal: “We believe that a commission should be appointed by the Board of Supervisors and empowered on an ongoing basis to audit and monitor the [Sheriff's Department] on the topics covered by this report and any others the Board of Supervisors may deem appropriate.”

This recommendation was ignored.

The jails commission found the present oversight systems ineffective and inadequate. L.A. County Special Counsel Merrick Bobb’s frequent reports on systemic problems and the necessary reforms to fix them were ignored by the sheriff and lacked any enforcement mechanism or follow-up capability. The oversight by the Office of Independent Review, which was created in 2001 to monitor use-of-force and misconduct investigations, was found to be ineffective, ignored or changed by management. It also has been hampered by Sheriff’s Department officials withholding key documents on use of force in jails, in violation of the understanding that the Office of Independent Review was to have “unfettered access” to records.  The ombudsman, which the jails commission described as the “clearinghouse for public complaints,” was found to be woefully inadequate in identifying patterns in complaints by civilians.

Beyond the moral obligation to have a permanent civilian panel to prevent another episode of uncontrolled violence, such an oversight body would save money. As a practical matter, it is doubtful that the county supervisors can adequately monitor an inspector general with all of their other obligations as elected officials. Plus, the jails commission found that in the five years before 2012, the county paid $25.6 million to settle excessive-force cases in the jails (a combined $42.3 million was spent on force cases involving the jails and regular patrol).  Fiscal responsibility demands that the Sheriff’s Department establish a civilian panel in addition to an inspector general. Most police departments have found such meaningful civilian oversight to be absolutely necessary to establish accountability, trust and community respect.

One could argue that because the Sheriff’s Department ignored the recommendation by the Kolts Commission in 1992 for a civilian oversight panel, L.A. County has continued to pay a high price for deputy violence, the sheriff has remained disconnected, dysfunctional leadership has been the norm and many individuals have suffered unnecessary deaths and serious, permanent injuries. We are where we were two decades ago, with the chance to establish meaningful civilian oversight — or again to ignore it and invite the past to repeat itself.

Original letter was posted in the LA Times on May 3, 2013.

Helping Victims of Human Trafficking

When Michelle Guymon first heard the term “sex trafficking,” she figured it was not her problem. After all, as a probation officer in Los Angeles County, she had no control over what happened in faraway places like Thailand or Belarus.

“The only thing I knew about trafficking was that it was a bad thing happening to kids in other countries,” she said. “I had heard about them on TV.”

But to her dismay, she quickly learned that these girls were here in Los Angeles. Even worse, she had been dealing with them for years as a probation officer and therapist helping kids through childhood traumas and their arrests as prostitutes. Like many in law enforcement, she just didn’t comprehend it.

“I realized that these were the girls that I had always worked with. They were being exploited sexually rather than being a teenage prostitute,” she said. “I think looking back on it, that realization was a hard moment. There were things I could have done better to move them forward and help them along that path, if I had known better. Now that I know better, we have to do better.”

And do better, she has. As the head of the Probation Department’s Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Project, Guymon is one of the key players in getting better services to the young victims as they enter the probation system. She was instrumental in applying for a state grant that allowed the county to begin a separate court program that diverts young girls away from incarceration and into programs and therapy that might help them get out of the life of commercial sexual exploitation. She has also established a pilot program in South Los Angeles—the epicenter of the sex trafficking problem—to create a safety net with a protocol for these girls.

Addressing the issue of human trafficking is a priority for Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas.

“I intend to do everything in my power to address this problem and help these young people leave conditions that absolutely no one should endure,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas.

There is much, however, that can be done. Through her work Guymon came to realize that before girls are trafficked they come into contact an average of 33 times with local authorities — whether it is through law enforcement agencies,  social workers  or health care workers. Both the officials coming into contact with the girls and the community at large need more education in order to help them. Most importantly, these girls must be seen as victims—not as criminals. The average age of girls coerced or forced into sex work is 12, and for many, the consequences are tragic. In just the last two months, one victim of sex trafficking was found dead in the sands of Newport Beach and another burned to death in South LA.

“Young girls go to the emergency room and to public health clinics—that is a huge point of contact,” she said. “If nurses and health practitioners knew and they asked, ‘wait a minute, why is this girl at 15 here by herself, why is she beat up?’ Then when she comes in contact with people, different questions will be asked.”

Ideally, Guymon would like the county to launch similar public awareness campaigns on sex trafficking as the domestic abuse and the Safe Surrender Don’t Abandon Your Baby campaigns. Also, the laws have to change. Some progress has been made with the passage of Proposition 35 ordering tougher sentencing laws against traffickers. However, girls are still treated like criminals, arrested for prostitution, sent through the criminal justice system and are punished more severely than the clients paying to have sex with them.

“These kids run a lot. So the more people are aware, the more we can make services available sooner,” she said. “Right now there is no countywide educational outreach.”

Growing up in Utah, she realized how sheltered her life had been when she moved to Los Angeles to work in a group home as the recreational director. Although she originally wanted to be a women’s college basketball coach, she found her true calling was working with at-risk kids. In 1989, she joined the probation department and has not looked back since.

As a ball player at the University of Utah, her father always told her she was better on offense than defense. Although she no longer plays basketball, she is still better at offense—especially when it comes to helping out these young girls. She has learned from her mistakes. She no longer asks them too many questions about their traumas; too many of the kids she saw began unraveling when she delved too deeply into their pain. She no longer believes these kids should be locked up to be protected. Instead, she could be seen as a lighthouse, where kids can seek her out when they are ready to find their way.

“You have to get to a place where you believe in their resilience and make a strong connection with these kids and love them through it,” she said. “No matter how many times they run, they can always reach back and we will always be there to support them. That is the best thing we can do.”

Sex Trafficking in Los Angeles

Human trafficking survivor and advocate, Nola Brantley, educates Los Angeles County employees.

It is estimated that hundreds of girls as young as 12 are the victims of human trafficking every year in Los Angeles.

This is how it happens. Often, she is as young as 12. She doesn’t have a family. She longs for love and safety. She meets a man who sweet-talks her, promises her love, protection and money, buys her favorite brand of sneakers or splurges on an iPod. Except nothing is free. He will then coerce her with threats and violence and force to her make a quota of $500 to $1,000 a night by selling her body to men up to three times her age.

She is beaten and starved if she doesn’t make her quota – day after day of statutory rape. She doesn’t get to keep the money and has no refuge. Her best option is to get arrested.

That’s the world of child commercial sex trafficking, a growing problem in Los Angeles County.

“Selling children has become more profitable than drugs,” said Nola Brantley, co-founder and executive director of the Oakland-based advocacy group, Motivating Inspiring Supporting & Serving Sexually Exploited Youth or MISSSEY. “It’s an issue that impacts people all over the world. Here, children living in poverty, children in the foster care system are at a huge risk.”

Brantley has been visiting Los Angeles as part of an education and outreach effort to help elected officials, law enforcement, social workers, probation officers, judges, and others understand the horrors of child sex trafficking and what can be done.

“The trafficking, abuse and sexual exploitation of children is abhorrent and it must be stopped,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas. “We must stop looking at these children as criminals and instead view them as victims. We must crack down on the pimps and the customers that are making this one of the greatest human rights problems of our time.”

Throughout Los Angeles County, significantly more girls are arrested for prostitution compared to the number of pimps and consumers. With the passage of Proposition 35 last year, which increases prison sentences and fines for human trafficking convictions and requires convicted human traffickers to register as sex offenders, the number of cases against pimps and traffickers has at least increased.

However, cases against consumers are rarely prosecuted as felonies and are normally sent to the city attorney’s office as misdemeanors. Officials are finding the profile of a consumer covers a broad spectrum ranging from blue collar workers up to men of influence.

The first step in combating this problem, said Brantley, a nationally recognized expert on the subject, is understanding that a sexually exploited and trafficked child should not be viewed as a prostitute.

“There is no such thing as a child or teen prostitute,” she said. “Prostitution requires consent. Right now, this is considered a victimless crime. We have to change that.”

In Los Angeles County, the Probation Department has largely led the effort to recognize when a child is being trafficked. Currently, there are several county programs including the Department of Children and Family Services’ Compton Teen Task Force, which helps identify at-risk youth, the district attorney’s diversion program and a collaborative court program to help sexually exploited teens re-enroll in school, get counseling, receive advocacy services from other survivors and shelter.

Sometimes, obvious signs are missed as a result of a lack of knowledge, said Michelle Guymon, Director of Los Angeles’ Probation Department’s sex trafficking project. For instance, in workshops Guymon now stresses the importance of looking for signs of trafficking even if the cases are related to weapons or drug charges because many times, those suspects are also pimps. One giveaway? Too many seemingly underage girls hanging around.

“Human trafficking is what happened to kids in other countries. When I realized the kids I had worked with my whole career were actually victims of exploitation I said “Wow, how did I miss that?’” said Guymon. “You think you have everything covered and then you ask yourself ‘how did I not see what was staring at me right in the face?’”

They are also learning how pimps terrorize and control their victims. One chilling tactic that Brantley has noticed in Los Angeles is the tattooing of girls on the face so that if they escape, they are easily identifiable on the street and retrieved by their pimps. It is difficult to prosecute pimps and the consumers in part because the girls are scared of the consequences or are sometimes afflicted by Stockholm Syndrome, a psychological phenomenon where captives identify with their abuser.

Another tactic used by pimps is called “guerrilla pimping,” where an unsuspecting girl is snatched off the street, raped, drugged and then enslaved into sex trafficking.

The good news, however, is that Brantley and other advocates rely on survivors of sex trafficking as mentors and counselors to help victims out of the life. In Los Angeles, more than 60 girls are actively involved in survivor leadership programs. Being a survivor of sex trafficking herself, Brantley understands the power of turning her life around and then helping others heal.

“There is a lot of love out there. I love mentoring other survivors. It is a community we have developed,” she said. “It has been great and very rewarding.”