Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

County supervisors called Tuesday for more protections for victims of child sex trafficking.

Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Don Knabe encouraged the Sheriff’s Department to avoid arresting victims of child sex trafficking or detain them with criminal or juvenile offenders.

A victim-centered approach that avoids arrest and detention and focuses on counseling and care has been piloted in Compton and Long Beach and on a limited basis by the Los Angeles Police Department, the supervisors said.

Sheriff Jim McDonnell appears poised to implement it countywide.

A sheriff’s department spokesman said McDonnell would reach out to the department’s roughly 18,000 employees this week with a messaging campaign to make clear that “these victims are victims of rape” and “there is no such thing as a child prostitute.”

Nearly 70 percent of the 32 exploited children identified by the pilot program — none of whom were arrested — remain in stable circumstances, according to board documents. Several high-profile exploiters were also prosecuted as a result of the program.

Knabe said changing mindsets and vocabulary is a big part of solving the problem of child sex trafficking.

“Coordination of this effort also helps to bring the focus on the other side of it, which is the scumbag pimps and the johns,” Knabe said.

Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey has already said she doesn’t believe exploited children are criminals and has instituted a diversion program for girls under 18 that offers crisis intervention, sexual assault and mental health counseling and substance abuse treatment.

Kuehl and Knabe proposed that all minor victims of sex trafficking testifying in a court case be allowed to do so via closed-circuit video, rather than in open court. That option is currently available to minors 13 years old or younger.

They also asked that all witness-victims be connected to a victim’s advocate to help them access resources and keep them safe. The board’s vote was unanimous in favor of the proposals.

— City News Service 

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