Motels serving homeless individuals with Los Angeles County housing vouchers may soon be required to allow sheriff’s deputies to inspect guest registries without a warrant, under new contracts being considered in the county’s fight against child sex trafficking.

The Board of Supervisors voted today to consider formalizing agreements with motels that provide emergency housing for the indigent to ensure that owners and managers are working to prevent the trafficking of young victims.

“Sometimes … owners turn a blind eye,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley- Thomas, who recommended imposing a new “code of conduct” on motel owners.

District Attorney Jackie Lacey told the board that sex trafficking is the “fastest-growing trend among criminal street gangs” that view prostitution as a “low-risk, high-reward enterprise” because girls as young as 11 years old can be sold over and over again each day.

Holding victims prisoner in a motel while customers paying for sex come and go is a cheap, convenient solution for sex traffickers, Lacey said.

Kim Biddle, founder and executive director of the nonprofit organization Saving Innocence, said perpetrators “move the children around to keep them disoriented.”

Shifting their base of operations from the airport area to Hollywood, for example, limits the chance that victims escape, Biddle said.

The Department of Public Social Services paid out roughly $3.5 million to motels and hotels providing emergency shelter in 2013. Vouchers provide up to 14 days of temporary shelter at a rate of $24 per day.

That low rate can make it hard for victims to escape a life of abuse, said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. She supported a proposal by Ridley-Thomas to seek funding to increase the daily stipend.

About half of the motels in the emergency shelter program are in the Second District, which is represented by Ridley-Thomas. But high-end hotels in Beverly Hills are also used by traffickers, according to Kuehl.

Biddle told the story of a girl named Ariel who was kept in a “prestigious” hotel in Studio City for three months before she was rescued. Five traffickers used the hotel, holding Ariel and other children there and subjecting them to “violent acts of rape and child pornography,” Biddle said.

If the hotel workers were educated about sex trafficking, the children would have been rescued earlier and suffered less trauma, Biddle said.

The children are “the ones that no one cares about and no one looks for,” Biddle told the board.

The board asked staffers to develop a competitive bid process for emergency shelter services with contracts that could require owners to sign a contract agreeing:

— not to allow or participate in any sex trafficking on premises;

— hang a poster with hotline information;

— allow law enforcement to check guest registries at will; and

— take a training session on sex trafficking.

Eric Preven, a candidate hoping to unseat Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian, told the supervisors that warrant-less inspections could be “a slippery slope.”

Preven said child sex trafficking was the “most appalling thing in our culture,” but argued that it should easy for law enforcement to pull warrants to check on illegal trafficking.

Supervisor Don Knabe disagreed, calling inspections “a powerful weapon” against the victimization of young children.

“The Fourth Amendment should not be used as an escape clause for sex traffickers,” Knabe said. “I urge the Supreme Court to overturn the challenge to the L.A. City ordinance that allows this practice.”

The board’s vote was unanimous.

“These kids have no one to look out for them,” Supervisor Michael Antonovich said. “That’s our responsibility.”

A report is expected back in 30 days.

City News Service

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