Trafficked Kids in L.A. No Longer Arrested for Prostitution

Minors caught up in sex trafficking will not longer be counted as suspects, but as victims in cases handled through the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Sheriff Jim McDonnell announced the shift in policy on Wednesday. LAist reported that McDonnell called for changes in the law and the procedures for offering services to child victims. He explained that under the current system, officials often must arrest sex-trafficked children in order to obtain intervention services.

This week, McDonnell wrote an email to some 18,000 Sheriff’s Department personnel detailing the average age of a sex-trafficked teen as between 12 and 14 years old. The message advocated for employing the terms “child victims” and “survivors of rape” while calling for the discarding of terms such as “child prostitute” and “underage prostitution.”

The Sheriff added, “With the benefit of a recent $1.5 million federal grant, our Department will be building out a regional task force that will enable us to enhance efforts to combat human trafficking and the exploitation of young people in our community.” The grant is part of $44 million in federal funds allocated between 16 sites nationwide.

This push from Sheriff McDonnell falls in line with local and federal actions to combat child sex trafficking.

“As those who commit this horrible crime and prey on trafficking victims become more sophisticated, we must work together to find new and comprehensive strategies,” Sheriff McDonnell said in a late September release regarding the $1.5 million grant. A joint LASD and Department of Justice task force on human trafficking, established with the funds, is intended to investigate “high-priority trafficking crimes.”

If we are to truly make a difference in combatting human trafficking, we must do more than simply prosecute the wrong-doers. We need a regional, multi-disciplinary approach that enables us to cross jurisdictional and agency lines. Working with other justice system and community partners, we will be able to amplify our ability to rescue and address the needs of the victim; investigate, effectively punish and proactively prevent criminal misconduct; and address the demand side by recognizing that buyers of sex with minors should be viewed as child molesters and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

The FBI has been running an operation known as Cross Country. An October 13 announcement detailed, “a nationwide law enforcement action that took place last week and focused on underage victims of prostitution, has concluded with the recovery of 149 sexually exploited children and the arrests of more than 150 pimps and other individuals.”

One day prior to McDonnell’s announcement, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors passed a motion stating, “there is no such thing as a ‘child prostitute,” according to LAist. The motion was passed unanimously.

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