When most people hear the term “human trafficking,” they think of children being sold in other countries. This issue, however, is happening in our own backyard. Have you driven down Figueroa, Sepulveda Blvd, or maybe even Long Beach Blvd. recently?
If so, you’ve had to have seen the children and women who are being sold at an alarming rate. This is simply called “the life.” Let’s explore what is referred to as “the life.”
Most will agree that the life of prostitution is one of the oldest professions, but contrary to popular belief this is no profession. There is no real choice for these victims.
Force, fraud, and coercion are the main tactics traffickers use to recruit, control, and prevent these victims from escaping such a dehumanizing lifestyle.
The average age of entry into trafficking is 12, and statistics say that 1 out of 2 foster children have been sexually exploited. Traffickers prey on vulnerabilities, such as low self-esteem, lack of family involvement, children who have been abused, children who are neglected and the most common “runaways.”
Some may wonder why don’t the police just arrest these people and rescue these victims. It’s not that easy. Most sex trafficking victims don’t tell on their traffickers.
Once victims have been recruited into “the life,” whether by force, fraud or coercion they are what “pimps” call “groomed.” In the grooming process, victims are given rules to the “game” and one of them includes not cooperating with police.
Victims are threatened and sometimes tortured during the grooming process to enforce a sense of control. Two reasons why traffickers recruit younger girls is first, they are easier to train, control, and manipulate. The second point is that in many cases, the younger the girl, the higher the price.
It is sad but true. How could this be occurring in our neighborhoods? From Compton to Hollywood children are being sold.
There was a law passed by California voters last November that makes it easier to convict traffickers. The new law, Prop. 35. was created to ensure more prison time for traffickers, mandate law enforcement to be trained on Human Trafficking, and to create a fund for victims of human trafficking.
Although there is a clause in the law that is being challenged by the ACLU (trafficker’s online accounts), the law is active and being used in several counties who have successfully convicted traffickers under Prop 35.
This brings our attention to the needs of the victims. Most children who are rescued don’t have families to return to and are forced to live in juvenile hall, placement centers, and sometimes unhealthy foster homes. The need for healthy families is great, especially in low economic areas.
Can you imagine being 13-years-old and recently rescued from a life of kidnapping, rape, and beatings, and having to be placed in a locked down facility with nobody to comfort you as your mind replays the torture and pain you experienced for weeks at a time.
This is the reality for our children living in the Compton, South Los Angeles, and surrounding areas.
Victims are in need of their communities to join together and declare no more selling of innocent people on our streets. The next time you see a person selling themselves on the streets, please keep in mind that there is a trafficker who stands nearby, watching what he considers his property. They are in need of your help.
Los Angeles County has several task forces that have been formed in hopes of combating such a heinous crime. Local churches and nonprofit organizations have partnered together as well to provide assistance to victims and their families.
Human Trafficking is a community problem. We can no longer turn our heads and ignore this issue. It affects our economy, our school systems, our business and our communities.
If you suspect someone is being trafficked you can contact the Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-3737-888
D’Lita Miller is Program Director fr CAS Education & Research (CASRE), a human rights organization that fights human trafficking. Ms. Miller, through CASRE, is a strong advocate at protecting women and children from being exploited and becoming victims of human trafficking.