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Leaving the Streets Behind PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alex Garcia Sun Contributing Writer   
Thursday, 26 July 2012 05:04

Valley Agency Helps Teen Prostitutes Change Their Lives

ALEX GARCIA/SFVS

Dr. Lois Lee, founder of Children of the Night.

In June, the Los Angeles Police Department's Human Trafficking Unit concluded a two-month long investigation, resulting in the arrests of James Grady III, 27, and two additional individuals in South Los Angeles. The investigation was prompted by a 15-year-old girl in the Riverside County Juvenile Probation Department who said she was the victim of human trafficking.

"The female minor stated that she was recruited by a male, by the name of James Grady III," according to a LAPD statement. "Grady procured the young female and forced her to work for him as a prostitute.

"During the four months that Grady forced her to work for him as a prostitute, he continually degraded her and forced her to perform sexual acts upon him. On two separate occasions, Grady intensified the violence on the victim. Both incidents stemmed from Grady setting financial quotas the female minor was to earn for him daily. When the young female did not meet her 'quota', Grady forced her to take off all of her clothing and enter the shower with the water running."

The statement said that Grady then brandished an electrical Taser and held it to the girl's skin. Grady would cycle the Taser several times and told her that "if she did not earn her 'quota,' the next time he would electrocute her in the shower."

Another time, according to the statement, Grady allegedly put a rifle underneath the girl's chin and told her if she did not earn her "quota" he would kill her and her family.

Child prostitution is present in the Los Angeles area and no one knows this better than Dr. Lois Lee, founder of Children of the Night, a Van Nuys-based agency that helps teen prostitutes escape life on the streets.

"All these kids were sexually abused at the hands of their first caregivers or their dignity was taken away by someone when they were young," said Lee, in describing what usually lands children and adolescents in the hands of unscrupulous adults.

"Many of them have run away from home. When you go out on the streets to survive whatever you're running away from, there are several things you can do; you can steal, you can sell drugs, but if you've been sexually abused, prostitution is not that big of a step. You're angry because your sexual dignity has been taken away from you and prostituting yourself is a way of taking control of the sexual abuse. You're telling the person who abused you 'I'm going to make you suffer for that,'" she said.

The Agency

Founded in 1979, Children of the Night is housed in a nondescript building near the Van Nuys Court House and has room for 24 teens between the ages of 11-17 at any one time.

There are two kids per bedroom who also share in the facilities' classrooms, library and entertainment area, and a small on-site garden. The building is completely closed and the public is not allowed to come in. A case manager or someone else from the agency will accompany the residents if they need to go out.

"We have an on-site private school, first grade to high school. They get tutored at their grade level. We place every year in the LA County Science Fair," Lee said.

The teens get case managers who help them with whatever medical or mental service they might need. "Some of these kids are getting immunizations for the first time. We help with getting pap smears, pregnancy tests, any kind of medical or psychiatric evaluations and mental health issues," Lee explained.

She added the teens also receive therapy at partner agencies, including Pepperdine University and the Fuller Theological Seminary Clinic.

"They also have a Sunday sports program where they play softball and we have a family style barbecue. Every Friday they go on outings, whether it's Olvera Street, Magic Mountain or the Museum of Tolerance," Lee said.

The teens – which can include boys, girls and transgender individuals – can remain at Children of the Night for up to four years.

"We ask them what they want to be when they grow up. A lot of them want to be CSI, some of them want to be pediatricians," Lee said. "We help them with whatever they want to be, placing them in independent learning programs or college when they turn 18.

ALEX GARCIA/SFVS

One of the residents poses in one of the rooms at Children of the Night, an agency that helps underage prostitutes leave the streets.

"If they're on a waiting list for a program or college, they can stay here until they're 18 and a half."

But just as there is help for minors at Children of the Night, there are also rules. No fights are allowed. Neither are drugs or weapons, which can lead to expulsion. Residents also have to attend school on site and wash their own clothes, fix their beds every day, and keep their rooms clean and tidy.

The idea, Lee said, is prepare them for when they leave the facilities.

According to Lee, between 80 and 90 percent of teens who come to the center are able to finish the program, although this doesn't guarantee longterm success. Children of the Night estimates that approximately 30 percent of youngsters housed at the center return to the streets.

Huge Problem

Every year Children of the Night receive about 10,000 calls from teens, parents and government agencies looking for help. More than 600 adolescents have been at the facility, at one time or another, since it opened.

In 2009, the LAPD Human Trafficking Unit was initiated to combat the growing problem of commercial sexual exploitation through prostitution in the Los Angeles area. Since its inception, the Unit has conducted more than 500 investigations, resulting in the arrest of more than 80 individuals for Human Trafficking related offenses.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that the average age when girls start prostituting themselves is 14, and there could be up to 250,000 underage prostitutes in the United States.

Leading such a life is extremely difficult, as the traumas of their abuse can linger forever.

"It is difficult, especially psychologically," Lee said. "Many go on with their lives, they attend school, get a job, but they're always going to need help from a psychologist or a therapist."

"Many of them are very intelligent, but there comes a time when the trauma of the past can bring them down again. It's difficult also because many of them don't have the support of their families or loved ones," she noted.

It's not unusual for program alumni to call the agency back from time to time and ask for help, whether it be a cab ride, paying for books, or any other difficulty they may be facing. And the program is always there to help, Lee said.

"My message to the children is always the same: whether you want me buying you books for school or you want me holding your hand while dying of AIDS in the hospital, I'll be there. This is your journey. I will help you in any way. No judgment. You don't have to do it my way. Except, if you're in the shelter, you have to do it my way. This is a home and for the greater good of children," Lee said.

If you have questions about Children of the Night, you can call (800) 551-1300 for more information.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 26 July 2012 05:27