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County supervisors honor probation workers in mission to stop human trafficking

January 8, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
Los Angeles County officials say the Southland has become a hub for human sex trafficking. Victims are as young as 12 years old. Tuesday, county workers who rescue them were honored.

You may not know when you see a young teen on the street: In the shadows, a pimp peddling her as a prostitute.

It is not a life that little Katrise desired growing up. But she was an abused child. Then at age 14, she turned to a predator for help.

"He told me he loved me and that he would take care of me. He told me I didn't have to worry about anything," said Katrise.

Los Angeles County recorded 2,351 cases of prostitution in 2010 involving girls under the age of 18. The office of Supervisor Don Knabe produced a video to highlight awareness of the problem.

For the last two years a collaboration of law enforcement, L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), and the L.A. County Probation Department have been developing programs to rescue girls.

"We must help these young victims heal and we must work to keep the other vulnerable away from this," said L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe.

Tuesday the County Board of Supervisors praised the commitment of workers who are reaching out with extraordinary effort.

Probation officials say children are valued targets for pimps. A single child prostitute can earn $140,000 a year for her handler. And pimps are prowling for more.

"Whether they're walking to school or coming back from the store, these predators do not discriminate in what area or what child that they will try to victimize," said Markese Freeman, Probation Dept.

"Usually if you see a young girl with an older man that does not look like she should be with him, nine times out of 10 that may be a pimp," said Jessica Midkiff, a survivor of prostitution.

As for Katrise, she escaped with the help of caseworker Misti Ward, who was among those honored Tuesday. Katrise is 18 now and enrolled in school. She wants to be a social worker.

"I've never really had anyone that was there for me, and she showed that she was there for me," said Katrise.

L.A. County has the only probation department in the country with a unit devoted to the prevention of child sex trafficking and protection of its victims.

If you suspect someone is being victimized or you know a victim who needs help, call the L.A. Metro Task Force on Human Trafficking at (800) 655-4095