Lois Lee has seen all kinds of youth walk into Children of the Night, the organization she founded 35 years ago, first as a drop-in center in Hollywood, then as a 24-bed residential shelter in Van Nuys for prostitution’s youngest victims. It is one of only a handful of its kind in the nation.
In the last two years especially, the attitude toward children sold for sex has changed. The word “prostitute” has been replaced with the phrase “sex traffic survivor.” Awareness has grown through billboard campaigns, marches down Los Angeles streets and government-backed task forces. And state legislators have introduced more bills that would penalize pimps with longer jail sentences and higher fines. But while Lee praises the increased awareness, the posters of doe-eyed children and proclamations to end sex trafficking still don’t translate into the kind of complex help and funding many youth and adults who have sex for money need. Especially lacking are the number of residential facilities that provide specialized long-term care and rehabilitation.
Lee runs Children of the Night through private funding. Children who come to the program are referred by police from across the nation. There are relatively few other facilities around the country that provide similar services — and the numbers are hard to track, researchers say, because programs open and close, while others may offer help for sex-trafficked victims as just one of many services. The County Welfare Directors Association of California says at least $20 million in state funding is need to establish an adequate infrastructure in California to raise awareness, increase prevention and provide long-term care. An additional $14 million annually would be needed to maintain such a program.
For Lee, running Children of the Night means protecting the youth and educating them. Some girls leave the program before graduating. Some come back. “These children are not seen as other children,” Lee said. “I want to change their lives and give them everything that other children have had.”
Learn more at Susan Abram’s Los Angeles Daily News article: Prostitution in Los Angeles: Programs like Children of the Night are all too rare.