Los Angeles County’s victim-centered, trauma-informed approach to combating the commercial sexual exploitation of children has taken root and is transforming young lives, authorities said this week.
The county’s first responder protocol, begun four years ago, focuses law enforcement efforts on targeting pimps and johns for arrest and humiliation, while recognizing that children are victims in need of support services.
Since then, 361 young people have been “recovered’’ from a life of exploitation, according to a report presented to the Board of Supervisors. Their average age was just under 16 years old and the youngest was 11.
A vast majority of victims are foster children who fall prey to adults who pretend to care for them and groom them for a life of exploitation.
Of the “recovered’’ youth, 85 percent had prior referrals to the county’s child welfare agency and 71 percent were black, according to the report.
“Several years ago, the board learned that Los Angeles County had become a major hub for the commercial exploitation of children,’’ Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said.
“Traffickers were preying on children and forcing them to sell their bodies for money. We took action and I’m proud that this progress report demonstrates L.A. County’s success and national leadership in the ongoing fight to end the sexual exploitation of children.’’
The protocol sets out key steps for law enforcement, county agencies and community-based partners to take within the first 72 hours of coming into contact with a suspected victim of commercial sexual exploitation.
It focuses on meeting their immediate needs and providing support for long-term safety and stability, providing a community-based advocate and a team of other professionals who stay involved for at least 90 days and often as long as a year.
Law enforcement has also stepped up arrests, with detectives conducting stings targeting perpetrators and posing online as minors to attract predators.
“As we concentrate our efforts across the county, I am pleased to see greater efforts to hold exploiters and buyers accountable, especially in communities such as Pomona,’’ Supervisor Hilda Solis said.
“Law enforcement, coupled with education programs for the community, such as the Parent Empowerment Program, will help address CSEC from every angle and end it once and for all in L.A. County.’’
Extensive training has been provided for sheriff’s deputies, other county staffers and service providers in working with these children. Efforts have also been aided by the creation of specialized units in the probation and child welfare agencies.
In the past, the trauma of exploitation was followed by time in jail.
“For too many children, the trauma of sexual exploitation is followed by the trauma of incarceration,’’ Supervisor Janice Hahn said. “I’m proud that L.A. County is putting an end to this vicious cycle by standing up for sexually exploited youth and recognizing once and for all that they are the victims, not the perpetrators.’’
Though success rates have been high, 12 percent of victims still ran away after county workers reached out to provide services.
After piloting the program at the sheriff’s Compton and Century stations and in the Long Beach Police Department, the protocol has since been rolled out to all sheriff’s stations and all divisions of the Los Angeles Police Department.