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Sex trafficking of L.A. County foster youth targeted [Google+ hangout]

Times reporter Abby Sewell will join city editor Shelby Grad for a 3:30 p.m. Google+ hangout to discuss a task force launched by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors to address the sex trafficking of foster youth.

The majority of juveniles arrested on prostitution charges in Los Angeles County come from the foster care system, officials said. Pimps have also used underage sex workers to recruit fellow group home residents. With the passage of Proposition 35, the responsibility for juvenile prostitutes from the criminal justice system to the foster care system.

From Sewell's Wednesday story:

Of the 174 juveniles arrested on prostitution-related charges in Los Angeles County in 2010, 59% were in the foster care system, according to Probation Department statistics. The department has launched initiatives to address the issue of sex trafficking, including running prevention workshops in juvenile halls.

But underage sex workers may no longer fall under the Probation Department's jurisdiction.

Proposition 35, which imposes tougher penalties on pimps, also includes language that decriminalizes prostitution for minors caught up in the trade — although there is debate about the effects of that change. But officials fear that greater numbers of young people involved in prostitution will become the responsibility of the county Department of Children and Family Services. Department director Philip Browning said his agency is "really unprepared at this point" to handle such an influx.

Browning and others said the department is not empowered to keep children in group homes and other placements against their will, and can't prevent them from running away. Emilio I. Mendoza, a children services' program manager, said many young sex workers fear they will be punished by their pimps if they don't leave foster homes when they have an opportunity do so.

"These kids see themselves as having no way out unless they're in a secure setting," he said.

Probation camps and juvenile halls provide that security. But advocates say the criminal justice system is not the proper setting for young victims of abuse and coercion.


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