Los Angeles can boast of countless different things: prestigious schools such as UCLA and Loyola Marymount University, celebrities galore, and a food scene that would make any food Instagrammer instantly jealous. However, it also boasts of a statistic that other cities wouldn’t be quite as quick to pick up: prostitution statistics.
With over 10 million residents, Los Angeles is known as the nation’s largest county, also unfortunately boasting one of the largest areas of prostitution. Most of the women who are part of the prostitute community are lured into the lifestyle by men promising them money and lavish living, the women themselves having come from a rough home life.
“Their whole life is usually one of neglect and abuse leading up to this point and by us just arresting them they are back out the next day and doing the same thing,” says Captain Chris Marks, commander of Los Angeles’ Regional Human Trafficking Force. “We’re not looking to prosecute these girls as sex workers. We want them off the street.”
The force was founded earlier in the year by L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell and is comprised of 80 different members from organizations such as Homeland Security, Social Services, and the FBI. Funded with a $1.5 million dollar grant from the Justice Department, the force aims to not only change how the justice system looks at prostitution, but also to end the trade as a whole.
Over the course of the year, the Los Angeles County Police has banded together with the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) to carry out sting operations so that they may arrest the men who are prostituting women for money.
“We go to get the girls who are being exploited, go after the guys who are exploiting them and try to impact the demand,” says Lieutenant Sheriff Barry Hall. “If there’s no one out there buying them there’ll be no one selling and that’s why we want to get as many guys in custody as we can.”
The women and girls caught in the crossfire of sweeps and arrests are offered resources and help from CAST – whether they take the help or not is up to them. “Sometimes they want services and sometimes they just tell us to go away,” says Sarah Leddy, one of CAST’s attorneys.
Sometimes, the sting operations can be as small as arresting a man who propositions an undercover cop in broad daylight. Other times, the arrests can contain swaths of people – such as in November, when 39 people were arrested in Compton during a human trafficking sweep. Out of the 39 people, 17 men were arrested for soliciting undercover deputies and 8 women were identified as victims of human trafficking, one of which was a 13-year-old girl.
It’s easy to see why the task force would be essential to women all across the county; it is even more to those who have spent time in the human trafficking system.
“I came to this country in 1997, believing that I would work as a nanny in Los Angeles,” says Ima Matul, an advocate at CAST who helps train other survivors to be advocates of the group. “Instead, I was trafficked and enslaved in a home by a wealthy family in West L.A.”
She believes that the task force can and will help those trapped in the system to escape it. “I’m only one story, one survivor. But there are so many more in Los Angeles County that have a similar experience of being trafficked: in a home, in a farm, a restaurant, hotel and the healthcare industry, and on the street.”
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