By Dianne Anderson
Young girls kidnapped for high profits always seem to happen in other countries convicted of human rights abuses, never in places like Orange County or Long Beach.
But by the time Tera Hilliard sees them, they’re around 20 and have been in the game since they were 12.
She notices an increase in the number of sex workers, especially in the bad economy.
“We find that due to economics and other factors, girls are targeted by predators, especially of lower economic status. You have a significant population of older at-risk youth out of the foster system,” said Hilliard, president and CEO of Forgotten Children, Inc.
In this National Homeless Youth Awareness Month, she said unprotected foster youth are always at greater risk. It’s not that they wake up and decide to sell their bodies to make ends meet, but more likely they’re trapped and cared for for the long haul.
At one point, she said her program had street teams four times a month to map hot spots where the girls are working, but with the increase in violence they are only going out once a month. When they do, they hand out freedom bags, lip gloss, mouthwash, gum, and a business card. They have a 24 hour hotline so the girls can call anytime.
On average, she serves 30-40 girls a month from Orange County to South LA and Long Beach, but traffickers constantly keep the girls moving to avoid detection by the police.
“He’ll move it to South Los Angeles, Orange County to Vegas, to Barstow. The girls don’t come from a particular region,” she said.
The traffickers are invisible, but the runners make sure the girls meet quotas of $500 to $1,000 a day.
She said it was more than prostitution. It’s domestic violence, years of trauma, sexual assault. She sees belt marks, cigarette burns, tattoos.
Girls are property and they stop fighting out of fear.
“The traffickers tell them I’m going to kill your family, I’m going to kill you,” she said. “We’ve had girls who have had a broken jaw, a broken collarbone, which has forced them out instead of just walking away.”
Her program works with the Long Beach Police Department with many girls referred by the vice unit and the district attorney’s office.
Long Beach recently had an undercover operation with a girl picked up suspected of being involved in a home invasion robbery. Instead, they discovered that she was part of a massive drug ring and was working that night. She is now one of their main witnesses.
“We’ve been working with the Long Beach Police Department to get her out of California, back to a safe place, a place that’s kept secret until the trial begins, because she’s the key witness,” she said. declared.
Violence against women is not new, although it was barely mentioned until the 1980s.
Before Hilliard got involved, it never occurred to him that human trafficking was so entrenched in America. Hilliard herself was raised in foster care and never involved in prostitution, but her mother was a drug-addicted prostitute.
She wanted to know how women get sucked into survival sex. She met the founder of the nonprofit Forgotten Children, Pastor Paula Daniels, who educated her on the extent of human trafficking.
“That’s what got me involved, sometimes you start looking at your own story. It all started to make sense,” she said.
His program has teams in Orange County around Harbor Blvd, a major prostitution trail. She said the difference between South Los Angeles and Orange County is that traffickers put their names in newspapers for their buyers to find.
Until relatively recently, she said young girls were referred to as child prostitutes, but nobody talks about the buyers.
“These men descend from the PV [Palos Verdes] from Malibu, from South Los Angeles to buy young black prostitutes. They create demand. The traffickers serve as an intermediary between the buyer and the girl. He makes sure she’s there [so] demand is met,” she said.
While Hilliard works on the correction side of the problem of exploitation, Wendy Gladney works on preventing traps for girls as young as sixth grade.
Gladney was also a victim of sexual abuse and abandonment, and spent her adult life exploring ways to empower young girls by improving their self-esteem. Some girls decide to prostitute themselves because they have been abused.
“Young women who have been through abuse, abandonment issues, all of that plays into the choices they make, good or bad. Some [feel always pressured] to make all the right decisions. It plays a role in every aspect of their life and the choices they make until they get some level of help,” said Gladney, founder of Forgiving for Living, Inc.
She said counseling, coaching and therapy can help girls develop a healthy mindset until they believe they are worthy of it.
“It’s a constant battle. It’s something you need to remember every day,” said Gladney, a consultant who works with at-risk girls aged 13 to 18 to provide mentorship and life skills.
These days many more mothers and children are on the streets, as well as unaccompanied young people, emancipated minors and TAY [transition aged youth] elderly in foster care.
“All are growing in the homeless community,” she said. “It becomes a compound effect of those who have experienced sexual abuse and emotional abuse. The mental health issues of people who are homeless and on the streets are all compounded by the economy.
Gladney reaches students in grades six through nine with a curriculum developed for its ongoing program, with a partner college. This school year, they continue to partner with the Boys of Girls Club at Watts Willowbrook, as well as virtual conferences.
They build self-esteem and provide the basic tools for self-reliance.
“You have to have a safe space, understand what is and where they can get help. This needs to be identified before you have the problem, not when you’re in the middle of the problem and don’t know where to go.
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For more information see https://vawnet.org/material/sex-trafficking-black-women-and-girls