LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County Probation Department, following the lead of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, is recognizing National Human Trafficking Awareness Day Thursday and 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 (CTU), 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, CTU’s Director Michelle Guymon has actively worked on numerous programs, trainings, and initiatives aimed at assisting Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (CSEC) with getting out of “the life.” According to Ms. Guymon, 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.
“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 states. “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 sex-trafficking 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. 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.”
National Human Trafficking Awareness Day is observed annually on January 11; however, the entire month of January has been dedicated to shining a much-needed light on this epidemic. For more information about Los Angeles County’s efforts in fighting human trafficking and commercially sexually exploited children, please visit http://www.lacounty.gov/human-trafficking.