In California and the Long Beach area, a rising number of street gangs are using sex trafficking as a quick and easy way to make cash. As the problem escalates, law enforcement agencies, community groups and legislators are working to raise awareness and fight the horrific crime.
Guided by Police Chief McDonnell, who is passionate about the issue, Long Beach is taking a lead in fighting sex trafficking. McDonnell said the Long Beach Police Department in recent years has changed its philosophy when it comes to arresting minors for prostitution, and in many cases, officers now focus on intervention.
As Long Beach cracks down on sex trafficking, police are uncovering more cases.
Los Angeles County also has been active in fighting sex trafficking. The county’s STAR Court program works in partnership with the probation department and local law enforcement agencies to identify and support victims of sex trafficking and connect them with resources. The program is on year two of a three-year grant. About 80 percent of the victims served come from the foster care system and 90 percent are African American.
While law enforcement can provide support, community groups and local organizations, like the Long Beach Human Trafficking Task Force, are essential for helping women and girls escape the life. The city’s task force was founded in 2012 and involves more than 50 organizations. One of those groups is GEMS Uncovered, a faith-based nonprofit that has a drop-in center for women on Pacific Coast Highway across the street from Long Beach City College.
Long Beach resident Mary White founded GEMS in 2011 after learning of the problem through her church. The group partners with other organizations to provide safe houses, clothing, resources for getting a high school diploma and more. Each Friday night between 10:30 pm. and midnight, White and her GEMS volunteers are at the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Long Beach Boulevard handing out food, water and candy bags with cards and information. White said sex workers sometimes come by to chat and some have later stopped in at the resources center. White said GEMS has rescued several girls and women. White said the group encounters and prays with about 2,500 people on the streets in Long Beach each year. Next month, they plan to expand to Compton and do outreach each Friday night.
“We’re out here every Friday night to let them known that there’s someone who cares,” she said. “That’s how we measure our success.”
Learn more at Kelly Puente’s Orange County Register article: Long Beach works to fight rise in sex trafficking.