Of­fi­cials dis­cuss hu­man traf­fick­ing

The Signal - - NEWS - By Jim Holt Sig­nal Se­nior Staff Writer For more in­for­ma­tion about Los An­ge­les County’s ef­forts in fight­ing hu­man traf­fick­ing and com­mer­cially sex­u­ally ex­ploited chil­dren, please visit www.la­county.gov/ hu­man-traf­fick­ing.

Law en­force­ment of­fi­cials on the front­line in the fight to stop the sex­ual ex­ploita­tion of young peo­ple took time Thursday to rec­og­nize the national day set up in sup­port of that on­go­ing ef­fort.

National Hu­man Traf­fick­ing Aware­ness Day was ob­served across the coun­try Thursday, but for of­fi­cers work­ing to stop it from hap­pen­ing, the fight is ev­ery­where, ev­ery day, in­clud­ing the Santa Clarita Val­ley.

“For us, it’s a daily ef­fort,” Cap­tain Chris Marks, who runs the Los An­ge­les County Sher­iff Depart­ment’s Hu­man Traf­fick­ing Bureau, told The Sig­nal Thursday.

“As far as our proac­tive na­ture in com­bat­ing sex traf­fick­ing, we try ev­ery day to iden­tify the of­fend­ers,” he said.

Marks said hu­man traf­fick­ing is “pro­lif­er­at­ing” in com­mu­ni­ties like the Santa Clarita Val­ley, and par­tic­u­larly with the use of the in­ter­net.

“We ap­pre­ci­ate the national recog­ni­tion be­cause what we need to do is bring more ed­u­ca­tion to the public,” he said. “That is sorely needed.”

SCV fight

Last month, the Do­mes­tic High­way En­force­ment Team made sig­nif­i­cant in­roads in the bat­tle to stop hu­man traf­fick­ing in the SCV.

In Novem­ber, an SCV group called Sav­ing In­no­cence in­vited the public to at­tend its in­for­ma­tion meet­ing and were pleas­antly sur­prised to wit­ness a re­sponse or­ga­niz­ers called over­whelm­ing.

In Oc­to­ber, a po­lice crack­down on the sex trade -- al­though national in scope -- saw ar­rests made in the SCV.

Op­er­a­tion Cross Coun­try was the third st­ing op­er­a­tion car­ried out in the SCV in seven months, bring­ing to 10 the num­ber of men ar­rested lo­cally for ar­rang­ing to meet a mi­nor for sex since March

“Peo­ple should know that by chat­ting (on­line) or dat­ing, whether they know it or not, are fa­cil­i­tat­ing these (hu­man traf­fick­ing) trans­ac­tions,” Marks said.

In the st­ing op­er­a­tions car­ried out across the Santa Clarita Val­ley by hu­man traf­fick­ing detectives post on­line ad­ver­tise­ments of­fer­ing sex with girls aged 14 and 16. The st­ing has re­sulted in the reg­u­lar ar­rest last year of SCV men who re­sponded to the ads.

On Thursday, county of­fi­cials in­clud­ing pro­ba­tion of­fi­cers ral­lied be­hind the on­go­ing cause.

United stand

The Los An­ge­les County Pro­ba­tion Depart­ment, fol­low­ing the lead of the Los An­ge­les County Board of Su­per­vi­sors, an­nounced Thursday it was rec­og­niz­ing National Hu­man Traf­fick­ing Aware­ness Day on Jan­uary 11 and that it con­tin­ues to be at the fore­front in the fight against the com­mer­cial sex­ual ex­ploita­tion of youth and young adults.

Los An­ge­les County is one of the na­tion’s ma­jor hubs for sex traf­fick­ing— specif­i­cally chil­dren. In Jan­uary 2012, the Pro­ba­tion Depart­ment an­swered the call to duty in the fight against the il­licit sex trade by cre­at­ing the Child Traf­fick­ing Unit, fo­cus­ing Pro­ba­tion’s ef­forts and re­sources on pro­vid­ing re­ha­bil­i­ta­tive ser­vices to the vic­tims of these crimes.

The CTU is a col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort be­tween pro­ba­tion and the courts to ad­dress the “unique needs” of this pop­u­la­tion, and sup­ports a myr­iad of countywide ef­forts and Board of Su­per­vi­sors’ pri­or­i­ties to con­front hu­man sex-traf­fick­ing.

Since 2012, the unit’s Director Michelle Guy­mon has worked on nu­mer­ous pro­grams, train­ings, and ini­tia­tives aimed at as­sist­ing Com­mer­cially Sex­u­ally Ex­ploited Chil­dren with get­ting out of “the life.”

Chang­ing the public’s mind­set to un­der­stand that sex-traf­ficked youth are vic­tims in need of help, not crim­i­nals in need of pun­ish­ment, was crit­i­cal, ac­cord­ing to Guy­mon.

“Shift­ing our think­ing around com­mer­cially sex­u­ally ex­ploited chil­dren as vic­tims of child abuse rather than crim­i­nal­iz­ing them as delin­quents has been an enor­mous first step,” Guy­mon said Thursday.

“I am also very hon­ored to work along­side some amaz­ing Deputy Pro­ba­tion Of­fi­cers who give of them­selves ev­ery day to en­sure that our youth know just how im­por­tant they are, and that they are re­ceiv­ing the ser­vices and sup­ports they need to heal.”

Since its in­cep­tion, the CTU has iden­ti­fied over 1,200 vic­tims of sex­traf­fick­ing and pro­vided su­per­vi­sion to over 525 Com­mer­cially Sex­u­ally Ex­ploited Chil­dren.

The Los An­ge­les County Pro­ba­tion Depart­ment con­tin­ues to be a national leader in the fight to help save these young vic­tims.

Spe­cially trained CSEC co­or­di­na­tors present within the ju­ve­nile halls and camps have proven to be vi­tal as­sets in pro­vid­ing ser­vices to youth in cus­tody who have been iden­ti­fied as CSEC vic­tims.

Leg­isla­tive help

In ad­di­tion, with the im­ple­men­ta­tion of Cal­i­for­nia Se­nate Bills 794 and 855, the Pro­ba­tion Depart­ment will now have screen­ing tools to iden­tify at-risk youth who may be vic­tims of sex-traf­fick­ing, re­port sus­pected CSEC to a child pro­tec­tion hot­line, and con­duct ad­di­tional CSEC train­ings. These bills also pro­vide for more ex­pe­di­tious searches for youth who are re­ported as miss­ing.

“CSEC vic­tims of­ten talk about how im­por­tant their pro­ba­tion of­fi­cers are in their lives, how they’ve made a dif­fer­ence in help­ing them heal, and how ex­cited they are to be mov­ing for­ward with a life with­out abuse and ex­ploita­tion,” said Los An­ge­les County Pro­ba­tion Chief Terri L. McDon­ald. “I am ex­tremely proud of these Pro­ba­tion staff who give of them­selves tire­lessly, show up day or night in times of cri­sis, sit with youth in the court­room as they tes­tify against their ex­ploiter, at­tend high school grad­u­a­tions, and en­sure birth­days are cel­e­brated. Their work is truly awe inspiring.”

Austin Dave/The Sig­nal

The Los An­ge­les County Sher­iff’s Depart­ment Hu­man Traf­fick­ing Task Force pre­pares to en­ter a mas­sage par­lor on the 18400 block of Soledad Canyon Road in Septem­ber.

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