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Some children in the county's foster care system are being recruited as child prostitutes, members of the Board of Supervisors acknowledged recently as they approved the creation of a task force to address the problem.
"The average age of entry into prostitution is 12 years old, and the average life expectancy following entry is seven years," said Supervisor Michael Antonovich, citing sources from the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI.
Proposition 35, approved by voters earlier this month, increases prison terms for human traffickers, requires convicted traffickers to register as sex offenders, mandates training for law enforcement officers and requires criminal fines to help victims.
Supervisor Don Knabe has also backed initiatives by the county's Probation Department to fight child prostitution and thrown his support behind an ad campaign designed to raise awareness of the issue.
But Antonovich said he was especially concerned about children in the county's foster care system.
"These children often come from broken homes with a history of neglect and abuse, and foster children often overlap with runaway and homeless youth with a lack of resources that makes them more vulnerable," Antonovich said.
In 2010, 174 children under the age of 18 were arrested for prostitution-related crimes in the county, according to Antonovich.
He said pimps were recruiting foster care children at the DCFS emergency center and from group homes across the county.
The board directed the Department of Children and Family Services to collaborate with the Probation Department, district attorney's office, sheriff's department, other law enforcement agencies and the Department of Mental Health to find additional ways to combat the problem.
The federal sources come about two weeks after a major report released by Attorney General Kamala D. Harris called "The State of Human Trafficking in California 2012," which underlines "the growing prevalence of the crime of human trafficking in the state" and "the increasing involvement of sophisticated transnational gangs in perpetrating the crime" and the modern technology that traffickers use.
However, while the county's effort focuses on youth in foster care, Harris's report cites labor trafficking thoughout the state as a much larger problem than sex trafficking.
The report was released at the Human Trafficking Leadership Symposium, hosted by the University of Southern California in partnership with Humanity United. Leaders from law enforcement, victim service groups, non-government organizations and other groups convened to discuss the report and consider best practices in the fight against forced labor and sex trafficking. U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis and Mexico Attorney General Marisela Morales Ibáñez provided keynote remarks at the symposium.
"Human trafficking is a growing threat because criminal organizations have determined it is a low-risk, high-reward crime," said Harris in a press release. "We are here to change that calculus. We must counter the ruthlessness of human traffickers with our resolve, innovation and collaboration. Law enforcement must continue to get trained, gather data and work to shut down the human-trafficking operations in our state."
According to the report, "from mid-2010 to mid-2012, California's nine regional anti-human-trafficking task forces provided training to 25,591 law enforcement personnel, prosecutors, victim service providers and other first responders. During the same period, the task forces identified 1,277 victims, initiated 2,552 investigations, and arrested 1,798 individuals for the crime. California--the nation's most populous and diverse state and the world's ninth largest economy--is one of the nation's top four destination states for trafficking human beings. Despite public perception, 72 percent of trafficked human beings in the state cite the United States as their country of origin, with the remainder coming from foreign countries."