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24
Thu, Jun

Taking It to the Streets: My War with the Pimps, Johns and Sex Traffickers in the San Fernando Valley

GUEST WORDS-Valley residents know that there’s long been a problem with sex trafficking on some of our streets. I grew up in the Valley and have lived here my whole life -- and it’s always been around.

We know that along Lankershim Blvd and Sepulveda Blvd there are “prostitution tracks.” When I was elected to represent this area on the Los Angeles City Council, I set out to help improve life for the people who live here. I’ve taken on the task of fighting human trafficking and I’m proud to have the full support of my Council colleagues in taking on this scourge in our community. I’ve been aggressively working on this issue for more than two years already, but over the past few months we’ve seen some remarkable benchmarks worth highlighting. 

In 2015, the Council adopted my plan to create a Valley-Operations Bureau Human Trafficking Task Force (HTTF). This group, under the excellent leadership of LAPD Deputy Chief Bob Green and Lieutenant Marc Evans, is approaching the prostitution issue from several angles that haven’t been used in a comprehensive way before in the Valley.

We should celebrate our success so far with the HTTF. This incredible task force has accomplished a lot during the short time they’ve been around. In fact, since the task force was first implemented, it has been incredibly successful. They have issued 552 traffic citations (with an emphasis on "Johns"), arrested 12 pimps, arrested 90 "Johns," impounded 26 "john" vehicles, and held over 75 meetings with residents. More importantly, in that time we've seen a 60% reduction in violent crime, a 15.4% reduction in property crime, and a 34.8% reduction in total Part 1 crimes along Sepulveda and Lankershim Boulevards.

As we address this issue, we’ll not only be taking criminals off the streets and helping victims, but we’ll be improving our neighborhoods for the folks who live there. I hope there will soon be a day when the neighbors who live near these prostitution corridors will no longer have to worry about what their children will see and step over as they leave the house. Neighbors won’t have strangers circling their blocks cruising and engaging in shady behavior.

At a summit I hosted with CSUN and Strength United on January 28, we were able to highlight the incredible work of this task force. The summit, called, “Reaching for Hope,” brought together all aspects of the task force and their work to have a community conversation around human trafficking, sexual exploitation and how that impacts the residents of the Valley and the people being victimized.

I was honored to be joined by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas at the Reaching for Hope summit. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas joins me in acknowledging that this is an area-wide problem, and not confined to any particular street corner. He spoke eloquently about protecting our young people, especially young women, from being bought and sold on the streets and in the online chatrooms throughout the Los Angeles area.

We had a panel at Reaching for Hope, where law enforcement experts, including Lt. Evans, Supervising City Attorney Richard Schmidt, and Judge Catherine Pratt from the LA County Juvenile Court spoke about the importance of targeting “Johns” who try to buy our girls. These experts shared that often the person working on the street corner is forced into that life. Often, the most visible sign of prostitution is actually a victim of sexual exploitation and human trafficking by complex criminal enterprise, or gangs. The HTTF is focused on arresting the pimps and “Johns” in an effort to decrease these crimes in our community.

To conclude the summit, there was a panel of service providers who help survivors of human trafficking. We heard from Dr. Stephany Powell from Journey Out, which is focused on helping survivors of human trafficking transition into a better life. Additionally, we heard the poignant story of a survivor of human trafficking who reminded us that anyone can become a victim and that it was everyone’s responsibility to tackle the issue.

As the work of the HTTF moves forward, our next big step will be receiving and developing plans to adjust the built environment that literally and figuratively invites shady behavior on our city streets. We’re working with CSUN faculty and students to develop an engineering approach to tackling human trafficking issues on our streets – from improved line-of-site to lighting and traffic measures. I’m anxious to see their report and get to work identifying the appropriate funding to implement their plan.

Too often people think that human trafficking is an issue that only affects people in faraway places. I take the responsibility seriously as a member of the City Council and leader in the San Fernando Valley to shine a light on this issue. We must acknowledge that this is an activity that affects us here in our own back yards.

About a week prior to the Reaching for Hope summit, I accompanied the LAPD and investigators from the Department of Homeland Security on a prostitution sting. The law enforcement officers were able to arrest three pimps that night who were running a million dollar prostitution ring throughout the Valley, including my district. I’ve been on several of these LAPD stings since joining the LA City Council, and I’m always moved by how young some of the girls are who are being pimped out. No young girl chooses to be out there selling her body and they’re depending on us to help them. At this most recent sting, it was rewarding to be there and see three dangerous pimps taken off the street; but I know that’s just the beginning…we have a lot more to do.

Valley residents who have concerns about human trafficking in their neighborhoods should contact the task force by email: 647TIPS@LAPD.LACITY.ORG 

I am passionate about improving the neighborhoods I represent, and that includes tackling the issue of human trafficking head-on. I’m grateful to have the support of my Council colleagues and so many community leaders throughout my district, as well as the LAPD. Together, we’re going to make sure the message is loud and clear that we won’t accept these activities in our neighborhoods or streets!

(Councilmember Nury Martinez represents LA’s 6th District, located in the San Fernando Valley.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.