California has recorded more than 700 cases of human trafficking this year, according to the National Human Trafficking Center.
The first laws in California for protecting minors involved in human trafficking were in 2005, written to protect young men and women starting at the age of 12 years old.
“These are kids and it is important that kids are being treated as kids,” said Director of Saving Innocence, Amber Davis. Saving Innocence advocates for victims of sex trafficking.
Governor Jerry Brown signed another bill, introduced by Sen. Holly Mitchell of Los Angeles, to help decriminalize minors involved in sex trafficking.
“There is no such thing as a ‘child prostitute’,” said Mitchell. “We needed to change our state law so we would not victimize or criminalize young women and men who are victims of sex trafficking.”
Los Angeles is one of three cities with the highest rate of sex trafficking in California, according to Human Trafficking Research. In the San Fernando Valley, Sepulveda Boulevard and Lankershim Boulevard have the highest number of arrests made.
“Prostitutes migrated into low income, minority, ethnic, more franchise communities at the time,” said CSUN Professor of Urban Studies Dr. Henrik Minassians. “More Asian Americans, African Americans and Latino communities ended up establishing their own businesses there.” Minassians is working with the L.A.P.D. to try to find ways to change urban environments in ways that would discourage prostitution.
Journey Out is an organization in Los Angeles that helps victims whose lives have been destroyed by sex trafficking.
“We started out helping adult victims of human trafficking,” Executive Director Stephany Powell said. “We have now partnered to a youth aspect of it. We get our clients through other organizations such as court systems, and we have an agreement with the city attorney’s office that if a person is arrested for the crime of prostitution, we have a diversion program that they can go through.”
Powell said 80 percent of trafficking victims are being exploited for sex; the other 20 percent are being used for labor, according to a sex trafficking report at dosomething.org.
Trafficking survivor Kanthi Salgadu says she came to America in 1996 to help provide for her family in Sri Lanka.
“I went to an agency, where they said I did not have to look for a job [in the U.S.]; they would help me find one, and they found me a place to work as a house keeper and nanny,” Salgadu said.
Salgadu was held captive in a Los Angeles house for four years before a neighbor reported suspicious activity to the authorities, and the Immigration Customs Enforcement rescued her. Salgadu is now an advocate for survivors, who speaks all over the country about her experience.
“[Survivors] want out; they want to start their lives,” said Stephanie Molen, Director of Partnerships at CAST. “They came to this country to start their lives and to work, and they want that opportunity.”
California law enforcement officials continue to make attempts to crackdown on human trafficking, by arresting the highest number of pimps in the country in 2014 and 2015, according to a FBI report.
Powell says giving survivors a safe place to live is the priority. Without that, there is no way to keep them from going back onto the street.
Moderator: Gabrielle Ortega
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