The sex trafficking of minors -- forcing young children to have sex for money -- is a huge, violent business around the world. Here in Los Angeles County alone, the number of pre-teens and teens forced into prostitution is in the thousands, with more than 500 juveniles arrested for prostitution-related offenses over the past two years.
These are children as young as eleven who were forced into prostitution by men they already knew or, in some horrific cases, by men who snatched them off the street.
Law enforcement officials and child advocates say it is unfair to call these children "prostitutes", that it is more accurate to call them victims. Many of them have come from broken homes and are veterans of the county's foster care system. Others are runaways who fled their troubled homes because of abuse. L.A. county agencies, including the Department of Children Services, the Board of Supervisors and the County Probation Department, have joined together to tackle the problem. One strategy is to pair survivors of underage sex trafficking with at-risk girls and boys to help counsel them.
Withelma "T" Ortiz Walker is one of those survivors. She tells our Christina Gonzalez that she was first victimized when she was just ten years old and was trafficked until she was 17. Walker says she came from the foster care system and her story is just one of many. "I think it just speaks to how many other young people are still out there," says Walker.
Another young girl who asked to remain anonymous describes how she was kidnapped off the street and forced to have sex for money. "If you get snatched, you are not gonna be in L.A. They're gonna take you across state lines," says the girl. "You'll be locked in a room for a certain amount of hours, until you cooperate with what they are saying." In many cases that cooperation is obtained through violence.
L.A. County is really on the forefront of trying to do something about the sex trafficking of young children, including setting up special courtrooms for the victims and trying to go after the men who have sex with the girls and boys.