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LA Unified joins forces to stop commercial child sex crimes

Mike Szymanski | November 18, 2015

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Monica Garcia reacts to the gruesome report.

As the FBI agent played a video of a 16-year-old caught in a sex ring in Los Angeles, the audience of the Successful School Climate: Progressive Discipline and Safety Committee yesterday remained hushed. Some wiped tears from their eyes.

LAUSD Chief Deputy Superintendent Michelle King reviewed the list of local schools where such crimes occurred and she she was shocked to spot an elementary school among them.

For the past year, LA Unified administrators have joined the fight to stop child sex trafficking with a group of 60 Los Angeles agencies called the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) Task Force.

“This is a very difficult topic, it makes us uncomfortable, afraid, repulsed, it’s not something we connect to our students,” said committee chair Mónica García. “I’m proud that LAUSD said ‘yes’ again to getting involved in the program.” Garcia said early next year she will ask the school board to support an update to the district’s child abuse policy to include focusing on commercial sexual exploitation of children.

“I want to be that village for our young people and educate ourselves and empower ourselves to be another level of lifeline,” she said. “The community helps ourselves by knowing more and getting the facts and it’s not going away just because you don’t know.”

LAUSD intervention coordinator Holly Priebe-Diaz said district officials will soon be adding information to their annual spring child abuse training for principals. She said she will ask the principals then to share the information with teachers.

“I thought I heard everything,” Priebe-Diaz said, until she attended conferences and training about how prevalent the problem was in the United States, and especially Los Angeles.

FBI Special Agent Ronald Schloegel, who is part of the task force and the Saving Innocence Project, said, “Sexual servitude is an international problem, but this is alive and well, in the United States and LA. It is the largest growing enterprise in the world.”

He said that one-in-three youths that run away from home can get recruited by a hustler within 48 hours. And, he said the average age is 12. He said the commercial sex industry gets recruits from high schools and middle schools, where youths congregate, and over the Internet.

He cited a girl who was kidnapped outside a high school in Woodland Hills who wasn’t paying attention and had earphones on when she was abducted. “We recovered her within 48 hours, and she was otherwise unharmed,” Schloegel said.

Robin Toma, the executive director of the L.A. County Human Relations Commission, told the committee that 46 local  area law enforcement agencies in the area now treat girls found in these sex rings as victims rather than as criminals.

“The school district can address those values and what the consequences are to their behavior,” Toma said. He said both young women and young men need to recognize it and not participate in it.

King said the report was “extremely troubling” and suggested that a person in each school could be identified as a “safe person” whom students can approach to report this kind of illegal behavior. “That is something real and practical that we can do soon,” King said.

Committee member Maisie Chin, executive director of CADRE, said, “This is heart-wrenching information” and hoped the district could find some concrete things to do.

Schloegel ended his remarks with a story of a local girl, Adriana, who was found in a sex ring at 15. Now, a year later, he reported that she is looking for part-time work, is back in school and said “one day I will help girls like me.”

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