Photo Courtesy of Louis Kengi Carr. (246191)

Best known as the host of the televised news magazine “Access Hollywood,” entertainment personality Shaun Robinson has turned her attentions to philanthropy with the establishment of the S.H.A.U.N Foundation for girls, a nonprofit to improve the quality of life for young women. Their latest endeavor, “Alternatives for Girls,” addresses the billion-dollar crisis of human trafficking, and was launched with a panel discussion in Robinson’s hometown of Detroit. This past Aug. 12, the discussion was moved to its second leg of a three-city tour (the third being Atlanta) at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center here in Los Angeles.

Joining Robinson on the dais were Kim Biddle the founder and CEO of Saving Innocence (who received a $5000 donation from the foundation), a nonprofit dedicated to ending the commercial exploitation of children, prosecutor and USC lecturer Tracy Webb, Los Angeles Probation Department Supervisor Joan Pera, and exploitation survivors Jessica Midkiff and Rachel Thomas, who shared their personal stories about the insidious practice of sexual manipulation.

On hand was actress Garcelle Beauvais, whose most recent project, “Lalo’s House,” is a fictionalized film account of an event wherein a Catholic orphanage was used as a front for child prostitution in Haiti. A 25-minute short, “Lalo’s House” evolved from a graduate thesis by director Kelley Kai Chatman at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

Chatman originally pursued an anthropology degree at Howard University, and while doing field work in Haiti, she became acquainted with the sex industry there in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. “Lalo’s House” features Haitian actor Jimmy Jean Louis, and is set for completion towards the end of the year.

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Sex trafficking ranks among the most lucrative illicit enterprises (along with narcotics, counterfeiting, and arms smuggling) in the global economy, with an estimated $150 billion collected annually according to the International Labour Organization, an arm of the United Nations (UN). The drug trade produces $280 billion to $420 billion (UN figures) in comparison, but as the panel disclosed, sexual commerce is an increasingly attractive alternative as a business model, given the comparatively milder legal sentences handed out to narcotics offenders.

There is truth to the common perception of victims typically coming from dysfunctional backgrounds (Midkiff’s ordeal began on the mean streets of South Los Angeles as chronicled in the New York Times best seller, “Ghettoside”), but predators have gained a foothold in unexpected enclaves like the affluent city of Irvine, where authorities busted a sex trafficking ring this past March, which utilized the advertising website

Seemingly benign bastions like college campuses are not exempt; Thomas was lured by the prospect of music video stardom while a coed at Atlantis Emory University. Pera of the Probation Department’s Child Trafficking Unit emphasizes that there is no set pattern for youngsters she is charged with to enter “the life,” because some are recruited in foster care, the internet, or even in the public school system. Departing from the punitive system of sentencing and incarceration in the past, her unit is taking an informed approach in setting these victims upon a therapeutic path of redemption.