County supervisors committed to supporting efforts to eliminate the commercial sexual exploitation of children received some welcome news from the frontline workers who updated them on the ongoing fight.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors heard from social workers and probation officials about the successes they’ve witnessed over the past four years.
In November 2015, the board instructed those on the Commercially Sexually Exploited Children Integrated Leadership Team to report back to the board on updates made to the Law Enforcement First Responder Protocol and, specifically, the results of expanding that protocol countywide.
“Parents were reporting that they now know how to help their children,” said Edward Fithyon, division chief for the Department of Children and Family Services.
In breaking down the training, Fithyon pointed out, for example, that the Parent Empowerment Program — a 10-week class during which parents learn how to help their children — is paying off.
Countywide, the training related to commercially sexually exploited children saw 183 training classes completed and 19,492 people trained.
“I’m impressed with the number of county employees we’ve been able to train,” Supervisor Janice Hahn said after the report was given. “And, that they are now able to recognize and possibly stop the exploitation.”
One of the cornerstone principles behind the First Responder Protocol is treating the commercially sexually exploited children who have been exposed to severe violence, threats and trauma as victims of child abuse and human trafficking, rather than “criminalizing therm as delinquents.”
The protocol serves as a guide to law enforcement and officials with county agencies dealing with the children as to how to take the right steps within the first 72 hours of coming in contact with a sexually exploited child.
Some of the statistics came as a shock to supervisors.
Sharing the positive outcome of treating sexually exploited children as victims and not criminals was one side of the human trafficking coin.
The flip side of the same protocol involves efforts to hold the criminals — the human traffickers, the exploiters, the pimps — and buyers accountable.
Numbers shared with the supervisors revealed that 441 arrests were made in the first eight months of this year.
At least three human trafficking operations were also carried out in the Santa Clarita Valley, each time resulting in local arrests.
While officials were optimistic about progress, they recognized there’s still much work to do.
“We didn’t find a silver bullet,” said Kate Walker of the National Center for Youth, “as there is no silver bullet with this.”